Witnessing fitness…

cat lifting weights

A few weeks ago I wrote a guest post for fitness blogger Saguren’s site Exercise and Health, on the topic of fitness blogging in general. When he issued the invitation, I was interested in contributing a piece because I find his blog helpful, interesting and balanced. I highly recommend you check it out.

You can read my guest post with his added comments at this link. I am also republishing my original text below.

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I have a tendency to get a little annoyed by some fitness websites (not this one) — for at least two reasons.

First, it often seems like they’re ‘preaching to the converted’ — catering to people who are already fit.

Second, they can come across as looking down on those who aren’t, by over-simplifying both what the attainable goals should be and what it takes to reach them. 

(An earlier post of mine from a few years ago also touches on this idea.)

I was especially interested in doing a guest post for this site because neither of those is true here.

For all my early life, I had little natural inclination toward strenuous physical activity. My interests ran to the cerebral and stationary: writing, reading, meaningful conversation. 

(My twin sister, in contrast, was in high school sports and seemed, from very early childhood and throughout, to have a noticeably faster metabolism, even though we share the same DNA.)

Years later, recognizing the cumulative detrimental effects on my specific constitution of not being more physically active, I finally found the resolve to make changes and incorporate regular exercise and healthier eating into my lifestyle.

The efforts were rewarded by improved overall health, and have become a permanent part of my routine for many years now, though they still require self-talk and determination.

Here are a few points I’d appreciate fitness buffs keeping in mind when they’re out to encourage others…

1. Everyone can take steps in the right direction

…but not everyone is going to find achievable the success you may be reveling in, or will find the fitness focus as enjoyable in itself as you do.

As mentioned, I obtained positive results from changes I made in exercise and nutrition routines, but I’ll never look like a body builder and those steps will continue to require purposeful resolve.

2. You don’t know the background obstacles your readers are working with

…so be encouraging while taking care not to imply too high a standard. 

After I recovered from two-plus years of cancer treatment in my 50s, I came away from it with permanent physical limitations. More than one cancer survivor/motivational speaker I’ve came across since has unwittingly left me more discouraged than encouraged, because they were harking back to their extreme good fitness before their diagnosis. (Both had been long-distance runners.) I’m happy for them to have returned to it — but I didn’t feel they could relate to my experience, having never been into sports and exercise beforehand. 

3. Don’t discount or underplay the role of mental health…

The effort it takes to move toward better physical health is precisely what is blocked by psychological difficulties; the two are, of course, intertwined. 

In order to feel more positive, I must get moving — but I can’t get moving because I feel so negative. 

Gives ‘cycling’ a new meaning. 

Yes, the cycle can be toggled to build upward rather than downward — but not without encouragement and determination, and only by starting with small measures. 

This is why every seemingly minuscule step must be celebrated; it is the only way to build productive momentum. 

4. Everyone’s success is unique to them…

I cannot expect to arrive at a similar shape as my sister, who has been ballroom dancing competitively for years — and we are identical twins. 

While the sciences of fitness and nutrition have made great strides, the relationship between the innate physique and environmental conditioning is still not completely understood — including, for example, how cells store and shed fat in different people.

For me to have trimmed the excess pounds I have since my treatments may be an even more satisfying achievement in its own context than my twin having never had to do so.

My favorite activities are still writing, reading and meaningful conversation.

Now, as part of maintaining whatever level of health is available to me, I’ve tried to add a more active spin to them — for example, sometimes writing or reading while on a stationary desk-bike, and arranging to converse with friends while out walking together. 

The challenge is to take whatever steps are accessible to me, however small, within my circumstances. 

Keeping this in mind counters the unhelpful comparisons with others — because only I know internally what it has taken for me to accomplish whatever small successes i have. 

The positive effects on my sense of self and wellbeing are incalculable.

On the move…

wave splashing on rocks Tyler Feld 07142018

(Tyler Feld Photography)

I composed some of this post while i was walking this morning, and some while i was knitting. The movements got me thinking about life from the perspective of motion…

As creatures bound by time, we experience our existence as movement through time. 

We measure our days and our years by what we get done, and by when. 

We wish our favorite moments could last forever.

When something shattering happens we say it was like time stood still.

When we accomplish or survive something significant, we feel good about having gotten from then to now, from there to here. 

‘Making progress’ feels important to us. We mine satisfaction from a sense of forward motion.

This is on my mind as i consider why i’ve felt rather contented over the past few months. Some of it comes with stepping out into the clearing after having been in the woods for a while. Some has to do with uplifting connections with family and friends. But it isn’t due to any major achievement, or to writing more posts (obviously). 

I do always feel a sense of having gotten somewhere after i’ve written. But i haven’t posted anything of length in a while, and it occurs to me that i’m getting some of the sense of movement i need from another source, namely, knitting and crocheting… 

When i write an essay or a fable, i love seeing the beginning, middle and end take shape. 

The ‘fiber arts’ projects also provide a beginning, middle and end that i am directing. 

A crucial distinction is that with the yarn-based endeavors, i’m following someone else’s pattern, rather than creating something original. Composing demands more strenuous thought and is therefore rewarding in a different way. 

But enjoying the fiber arts (which i only recently returned to after decades away) strikes a happy medium between passivity and more deeply engaged effort. And while doing the finger-work, i am often mentally stimulated to get on to the writing.

Relishing both activities, i hear a whisper inside: “Lots looks different now, but you made it through, you’re ok.”  

Reflecting on tougher times, it hits me that they were characterized by either very little perceived forward movement, or by a swirl of motion involving me that i was not directing and had little influence over. 

But even when all is well, we live in a culture that prizes busyness, and we need to cultivate composure, make time for down time, elicit equanimity. 

The momentum of a too-busy life can get the better of us, like losing one’s balance running down a hill. 

For some, meditation and mindfulness are key to countering the imbalance. They do so not through escapism, but through re-orienting.   [*Be* the purring kitten.]

Momentum does not equal purpose. We can feel adrift doing too little or too much.

Peaceful direction seems the best balance. 

We can get a certain amount of this just from getting little chores done. Paying bills or doing dishes –they’re still movement [sideways oxymoron alert].

And spending time with others doesn’t get in the way of goals — when it is one of the goals. 

An idea which guides my thinking about almost everything is connectedness. Our deepest satisfactions as well as our most disruptive challenges have to do with our interrelations with others; the investment can be hefty but is rarely wasted.

I’ll have more to say in a future post about other kinds of movement. 

But if you’ll excuse me for now… that scarf isn’t going to knit itself.

A writer’s vignette…

I’m guessing some of you can relate to this…

On her way downstairs to meet her visitors, Sophia sat down suddenly on the final step, her hand dropping off the railing. She wondered as her heart pounded… How hard could this be?

Why should her physical self be so at odds with what she really wanted — when all she wanted was for others to see and appreciate an important part of herself? And she was so close now.

While the small group awaited her presentation in the reading room, drinking punch and murmuring, she felt immobilized, unable to wrench herself up from the step, her mind aswirl.

At last, she gathered her resolve and rose, determined to honor her true self despite her trepidation.   Continue reading

Mirth and melancholy…

The turn of the year compels us to look in two directions at once. We encapsulate the closing year as we reflect on the opening one’s possibilities. Our inherent drive to mark time also carries the urge to compare — between today’s thoughts and those at last year’s turn, and to overlay them with a clarity of progress and pattern.

Last year at this time, i considered life’s vagaries here through a musical motif. This time, i offer another wordsmith’s sentiments, using the music of poetry.

I’m moved by how this simple, early 1900s poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox evokes the melancholy behind the mirth:

THE YEAR

What can be said in New-Year rhymes,

That’s not been said a thousand times?

The new years come, the old years go,

We know we dream, we dream we know.

We rise up laughing with the light,

We lie down weeping with the night.

We hug the world until it stings,

We curse it then and sigh for wings.

We live, we love, we woo, we wed,

We wreathe our brides, we sheet our dead.

We laugh, we weep, we hope, we fear,

And that’s the burden of the year.

The poem’s somber nature overtakes the joy — and that may not be where some readers want to land.

I see it as a contemplation whose grave tone dwells on only one aspect of human experience. Other songs and poems bring out the exuberance and optimism of new beginnings. Let us be looking for those as well.