Hating Gym: Liking Gym Edition

I have admittedly invested a lot of both time and effort in chronicling why I despised my ninth grade gym class:

I’m glad I’ve done so, both because it’s helped me see some of my adolescent experiences through adult eyes — a teacher’s eyes — and to name inexcusable educating and caretaking behavior for what it is.

But I’d be remiss if I didn’t dedicate at least one post to tenth grade gym.

The class was called Muscle Development, and — for name alone, I expect — it had acquired the reputation of being a class dedicated to “bulking up.” Consequently, there were about four sections of Boys Muscle Development and only one of Girls Muscle Development — and that one included a lot of students who, like me, had selected “no preference” for their specific tenth grade PE class. The class itself was an unlikely mix of students — half hardcore, four-season varsity athletes and half people who looked like they’d been plopped in from another dimension. I was in the latter group.

“Your grade in this class will have three parts,” the teacher explained on the first day. “The first is what you know. For example, can you explain how muscles use oxygen or how to use a particular piece of equipment in the weight room? Being able to lift weights is great, but it’s even better if you know how lifting is affecting your body. And it’s crucial to be able to do it safely.”

As someone who’d grown comfortable in traditional academic settings, I breathed a sigh of relief. Explain the steps in a process? Easy. Conceptualize some human anatomy and physiology? No big deal at all, even if it was only a portion of my grade.

“The second part is participation. Showing up, dressing out, and trying your best every day will get you some points. Because a person who does that regularly is setting themselves up for more longer-term benefits than the person who might only work out once in a while, even if you can’t do very much right now.”

I’ll be honest: Even then, I considered participation grades as ways for teachers to pad their students’ grades. But after my experience with the gym class from hell, I was still worried that I’d need as much padding as I could possibly get. Additionally, I continued to worry about how the whole “needing to skip gym and/or school for horrific period pain” thing would affect my participation grade, as we’d not yet found a doctor who would sign off on a note for it.**

“The last part is goal setting and reflection. You will have to set fitness goals for yourself — reasonable fitness goals — and work toward them. If you’re not meeting them, you’re going to have to figure out why not and what is the best way to change. I don’t mean that you’re going to be able to do anything you want, but there are a lot of different goals you could set, and a lot of reasons you might need to modify. But we’ll talk more about that as we start each unit.”

And she was basically as good as her word on that, too. Things I learned in Muscle Development:

  • There is a whole spectrum of combinations between a million reps at a teeny tiny weight and one rep at your complete max for that weight. Different combinations have different purposes, but a good rule of thumb is this: If your weight lifting routine is hurting you or boring you, it’s probably time to switch.
  • Form really does matter, both for keeping vulnerable body parts safe (hi, knees and low back!) but also for making the exercise harder.
  • You will probably always have particular exercises and/or muscle groups that you struggle with. So will the person next to you. Their struggles may not be your struggles. It doesn’t mean that either person is better or worse; you’re just different.
  • Squats were designed by the devil herself.

And even with the squats, it was okay.

Fitness

** I eventually solved this problem by being totally absent from school and having one of my parents call me in sick (and, slightly further down the road, posing as my mother to call myself in sick — with my mother’s knowledge and consent). While I suspect some people at school may have noticed the cyclical nature of my absences, there were really no solid grounds for them to voice any objections.

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Yoga Month, Yoga Wisdom — Touching

The third thing yoga taught me was that it’s okay to touch myself.

Edgar Germain Hilaire Degas 029

I don’t mean like masturbation, though that’s all fine and good too. (Though it should probably be reserved for a home practice rather than at a studio class.)

What I mean is, yoga taught me that touching myself — even touching myself in places that are often sexualized — can be part of a functional resettling of my body to my own purposes.

First, it was the instruction to “pull (or roll) the flesh away from the sitting bones” for a lot of seated meditation postures as well as forward bends. Basically, this amounts to a lot of yogis sitting on the floor and grabbing their butt cheeks. As someone who has a rather copious amount of ass flesh, the difference this makes on my pelvic tilt — and therefore the amount of comfort or discomfort I feel in my hips and low back — is nothing short of amazing. I definitely pull the flesh away from my sitting bones while getting ready to drive in the car now, and I try to surreptitiously roll my butt flesh away before sitting down to boring meetings. If people think I am odd for it, well, they are welcome to their conclusions.

Next, it happened that a couple of teachers familiar with pose modifications for fat folk introduced me — via the wonder that is the Internet — to moving my waist-related love handles out of the axis of rotation for twisting poses. For reasons I have already detailed, I am way less comfortable with my belly than I am with my butt and so touching my belly is even more emotionally charged for me than is touching my butt. But when I tried it, it helped free up so much movement — especially in “compressed” twists (twisting in toward a grounding leg). I’d known for a long time that my back was more flexible than my belly was letting me go in twists. But I’d also been thinking of the issue in terms of my belly limiting my range of motion — when one simple solution is to just move parts of me where I want them to be.

Most recently, I’ve begun to apply the twisting advice to my breasts, which impede my range of motion in even more poses than does my belly. (The boobs impede first in a lot of twists; they also factor in to prone poses like cobra, locust, and bow, as well as some inverted poses like bridge and plow.) Practically, again, it increases my comfort and range of motion in the previously problem postures. Emotionally — on the one hand, at least — it is way nicer to think, “hey, the correct way for me to set up for this asana involves moving my boobs,” than to think, “eff, my boobs are getting in the way of my asanas yet again — stupid boobs.”

On the other hand, while I’m quite comfortable moving my boobs in my home practice, I’m a lot more hesitant about doing so in a studio class. At home, it feels like setting up for an asana the same way I’d set up any other body part to be in my body’s best alignment for the pose. But I’m not sure how many other folks at my studio — and I’m at a pretty accepting studio — would see it that way.

In time, I suppose, I will forget as I’m caught up in my own practice. And without thinking, I will grab my boobs in yoga class — and we will see what will happen.

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Thank You, Richard Nixon

For signing Title X — thereby providing family planning services to low income families and individuals — into law. More specifically, thank you for doing so to fulfill the promise that “no American woman should be denied access to family planning assistance because of her economic condition.”

It’s good to know that some issues transcend partisan lines.

Oh, wait. We’ve actually regressed since 1970. We had better family planning politics in the era of the eight-track and the Ford Pinto.

In that case, Mr. Nixon, would you be willing to haunt some people from beyond the grave?

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Yoga Month, Yoga Wisdom — Feet

Sole view of KomodoSport LS.

You know what great new epiphanies being able to bend forward in bound angle pose has gotten me?

I can now smell my feet better than I could before.

Yoga wisdom: No, really — sometimes there is no profound metaphysical benefit to being able to go deeper into a pose. Sometimes, it’s just feet.

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More Political Postings

I’m writing this on the last evening of the Democratic National Convention. Probably — I’m not watching TV and not keeping track of time zones — even as I’m writing this, Barack Obama is giving his speech to the DNC delegates.

And that is fabulous, but tonight, I’m thinking about politics back home.

Because I’ve spent the past week-ish contacting six Democratic candidates for the state House and Senate. I’ve played email tag; I’ve played phone tag. I wrote up two interviews — for Tucson area Senate candidate David Bradley and for Phoenix area House candidate Matthew Cerra — and am trying to work out the timelines for more.

Here’s the thing: None of these candidates — to-be-interviewed or already interviewed — is seeking to represent my local legislative district. And yet, their elections matter to me.

Because as a woman, I cannot afford even one more legislator who votes against the interests of women.

Because as a queer woman, I cannot afford even one more legislator who votes against the interests of LGBTQ people.

Because as a teacher, I cannot afford even one more legislator who votes against the interests of education. (People — schools or prisons: YOU MUST FUND ONE.)

Because as a teacher in a high-minority, low-SES district, I cannot afford even one more legislator who votes against the interests of poor people or of minority ethnic groups.

Because as someone committed to as much social justice as I can manage (and I’m way not perfect on this, at all), I cannot afford even one more legislator who is committed to the opposite.

And really — who can?

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Yoga Month, Yoga Wisdom — Pain

The first thing yoga taught me was that not all pain is good pain.

The second thing yoga taught me is that not all pain is bad pain.

Particularly for someone who’s recently come to realization of the first, I think the second can be a good balancing reminder.

What I mean is this:

There was a time when I was effectively in denial about the harm “bad pain” was doing to my body. By “bad pain,” I mean things like joint pain or pulled muscles from forcing myself too far in a posture or like powering my way through a bad endometriosis day, only to use up all of my stamina reserves in my workout.

Then there was a time when I realized that “bad pain” was, well, bad and therefore important to avoid. Only, because I did not have a way to distinguish good pain from bad pain, I wanted to avoid all pain. Understandable, but not necessarily either reasonable or productive.

For a while there was a time when I wanted to avoid even strong muscle-building pain, the kind one might experience in one’s quads or glutes from holding a warrior or a goddess pose for a long time. Within reason, that type of pain can be non-harmful and can even be helpful. But only if I’m okay with experiencing it long enough for it to actually start to build the muscle or to find stability in a pose or whatever.

Medical drawing of the female pelvic floor muscles.

Even now, there are some types of opening sensations that I shy away from — specifically, in my shoulders and in my hips. My shoulders are pretty tight, so a little opening is a lot intense for me. And hip openers are just… hip openers. Particularly as a survivor with chronic pelvic pain, that is a lot of physical sensation for me. Even when the physical sensation I’m experiencing is not inherently negative, it can remind me of similar hip or pelvic or low back pain I’ve felt that was bad.

But a lot of that muscle building and muscle releasing pain can be beneficial. It’s a matter of paying attention and not asking myself to deal with more than I can handle.

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In My Backyard: Part 5 — The Non-Creeping Garden

Continued from here.

Sonnenschirm rot red

When the backyard belonged to my grandparents, I liked to think of the patio belonging to my grandfather and the yard belonging to my grandmother. The patio held the charcoal grill, the picnic table with massive adjustable umbrella, and seasonally appropriate sitting devices — from zero in winter to lawn chair rockers — all my grandpa’s type of thing. In the yard, the small flower boxes were filled with marigolds and petunias, the larger flower beds were filled with yearly tomatoes, and the rest of the perimeter was crammed with various sorts of flowery or furry (hi, pussy willow!) shrubbery.

After he cemented the swing set — and long before my sister and I figured out to place ourselves in daily mortal danger with it — Dad set to overhauling the garden. My first instinct is to say that when it was his, it was more vegetables, fewer flowers. Upon further reflection, however, that wasn’t really accurate. When Dad had it, the garden was more of everything.

He did start by removing some of the bushier flowering plants. I’m really not sure what the names of any of them were. One had these large pink puffball flowers when they bloomed. For some reason, when they were still in the bud stage, ants crawled all over the buds — like, imagine the buds were made out of sticky dropped popsicle kind of crawling all over — which was why Dad got rid of that one in the first place, I think. Also because then the family room windows gave an unobstructed view of the backyard, meaning Dad could keep an eye on us playing bobsled and watch hockey on TV at the same time.

Also, these weird flowering bushes with thorns. No, not roses. Roses are stems and leaves and flowers with a few thorns thrown in just for funsies. These were like the Sleeping Beauty Hundred Year Wall bushes, with thorns and thorns and stems and thorns and thorns and leaves and thorns and thorns with a few brave or foolhardy tiny four-petaled flowers thrown in. In fact, we tried playing Sleeping Beauty there once. In our version, Sleeping Beauty woke up, got bored, and went home — because no Prince Charming was ever going to get through those thorns. Which, given that I later learned the original context of that tale, I’m not sad we stopped playing that and started playing “spies who escape on waterslides” instead.

But. The bushes. I know my dad chainsawed those out on his own. I do not distinctly remember the cussing, but I assume it’s just blended in with my experience of all other things Dad. In some fashion, the bushes came out by the roots, leaving happy flower and vegetable beds — the frames for which I do remember redoing my own self — in their place.

Some of those beds, we planted flowers in, at first. Just the cheapie, “toss them anywhere we promise they’ll grow,” wildflower mixes. To be fair, they did. After a while, however, we decided to experiment with other toss and grow things. Leaf lettuce turned out to be both as easy to grow and somewhat more utilitarian and tasty. It is not terrible, when one is preparing a salad, to head out to the yard and pick some lettuce to eat right there.

Those were the same beds in which, after returning from one of our vacations to the Lake Michigan sand dunes, a small patch of wild strawberries started to take hold. They never claimed more than a corner of the flower bed, but even now — nearly twenty years later — they are still there.

In a few other places, Dad did plant rose bushes. I’m not sure if my mom actually liked rose bushes — though I suspect she liked them better than she does leaf lettuce — or if that was just Dad’s excuse for the planting, but each year for Mother’s Day (coincidentally, the time of year when it is safe to plant shit in Michigan without too much worry of overnight frost or freeze), he purchased and planted for her one rose bush. A few of them did die over time, but as most survived, they began to creep their way around the perimeter of the backyard.

Though they did not creep so much as some of my dad’s other plants. But that is another story for another time.

Barkarole (Tantau 1988)

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