Mother’s Day’s approach has me thinking a lot about motherhood, both as an abstract concept to be celebrated and as this thing I do all day every day. And now that I’m out of the exhausted haze of infancy and not quite into any toddler terribleness (so far, two is great!), I’m starting to realize that the daily self-discipline of parenting has been better spiritual training for me than any yoga class I’ve ever been to. I like yoga a lot, did it for a long time, and still try to do it in my home when I can, but what I liked best about it was the way it made me feel whole– mind and body unified, deeply in touch with myself and my place in my body and the world, happy to be alive, neither selfish or selfless, but balanced. One of the biggest aspects of it for me was mindfulness, just being present in a moment while at the same time knowing that moment will pass.
In this piece, Hamilton Nolan critiques a recent NYT article called “Does Working Out Really Help You Lose Weight?,” particularly its assumption that the goal of exercise, and indeed all of life, is being “thin,” a word that is used repeatedly in the NYT’s article. Hamilton writes:
Being thin is an awful goal towards which to strive. It is certainly not the goal of an exercise program. Writing an entire, ostensibly meaningful and important story on whether exercise can make you thin is analogous to wondering whether going to college can get you laid. Yes, but that’s not really the point.
The purpose of working out is get in shape. Not to get “thin.” To be in shape, for the average person, connotes being healthy, and improving on the basic elements of one’s own fitness: muscular strength, endurance, cardiovascular, flexibility, etc.
Amen! The goal of working out, and even of eating healthy foods, is to be HEALTHY, which may or may not mean being thin. In fact, for many people, it will not mean being thin. And being thin does not necessarily mean being healthy, either. I should know. I’m what the NYT might call “thin,” with a BMI* naturally in the “underweight” range of the scale, and yet I am still what you might call “out of shape.” I couldn’t run a mile if you asked me to. I have a rather high resting heart rate. But I recently started exercising regularly for the first time in my life, by taking yoga classes, and I am feeling stronger and healthier and happier the more I practice yoga.
Not to mention, thinness is a crappy way to motivate people to pursue healthy activities. I eat healthy food because it tastes good. I practice yoga because it’s fun, it helps with my back pain, and it makes me feel beautiful just to be in my body. I even hear tell that some people like to run because they think it’s fun, though I think it sounds like torture! Do what makes you feel good and healthy. Do what’s fun. It may or may not make you thin, and who really cares anyway?
*As an aside on the BMI: a lot of those feministy body-positive Healthy at Every Size blogs I read like to talk smack on the BMI. While they have a point that having a certain BMI does not necessarily mean one is by definition unhealthy, ie, just because one falls in the “obese” or “underweight” category according to the BMI does not mean one will have all of the health complications associated with that category, the BMI is still useful as a measure of predicting risk and determining if further testing is necessary. For example, according to my BMI, I might be at risk for infertility, osteoporosis, and anemia. Because of this, my doctors might suggest testing or monitoring to see if I have developed those issues, but it doesn’t mean I have to HAVE those issues– in fact, I don’t. The same goes for people who are obese according to the BMI– they are at risk for diabetes and other complications, and may require testing or monitoring, but will not necessarily have those conditions.
I am not a graceful person, and that’s putting it mildly. While sometimes I pretend it’s a depth perception problem that keeps me knocking my hips on countertops, grazing door frames with half my body, and dropping and spilling things on the regular, I really just have poor control over my body and zero coordination. Some days become such an endless series of dropped, stubbed, banged, knocked, tripped, bumped, klutziness that my husband tells me, “Sarah, make a conscious effort, would ya?” It’s somewhat charming that he seems to think just trying harder is going to solve a lifetime of gracelessness.
On the other hand, I am a very competitive person. This may sound silly, but people are amazed at how fast I can type. People come into my office and are awed by the speed of my fingers on a keyboard. Want to know how I achieved such mad skills? Pure competitiveness. When I was an 8th grader taking keyboarding, I sat next to a friend of mine who was a very fast typist. And every single day, I had to prove that I could type faster. I’d will myself to type faster and faster until my wrists started to cramp. Because in my mind, it was the keyboarding Olympics. I was winning the gold. I was blowing everyone else out of the water. That’s just one small taste of my competitiveness.
Taken together, these two traits make for an unlikely yoga student. Add in the fact that I’m so out of shape that when I stepped on my little sister’s Wii Fit for analysis, my Mii slumped over like a weak little noodle and I was informed that I’m out of balance and underweight, and you’ve got a VERY unlikely yoga student. Continue reading “yoga and struggle”