Today I went for a jog…and it was hard. I’m not a natural when it comes to exercise at any rate – it’s just never come easy to me – but today kicked my arse. I was thirsty, I felt like my breakfast was still digesting, I was out of breath too soon and my legs felt like bricks. It reminded me a lot of when I first started. But I’ll start this post a little further back than that.
After I broke my leg, the doctors said I wouldn’t need any physio because the breaks were in the tibia and fibula, not the joints. So although they had operated on me three times to insert, re-set (because my foot was pointing in the wrong direction the first time), and finally remove the nail that extended from my ankle (joint) to my knee (joint), and although a good part of the trauma my leg went through was at these joints (owing to the two screws at either end to hold the nail in place), no follow-up therapy was carried out. Consequently, I had a lot of pain, particularly in my ankle. I couldn’t walk for more than half an hour before I began limping.
It didn’t help at all that I’d begun putting on weight.
So when C would invite me to come run with him, I routinely declined, but not without a twinge of jealousy. Not for the run, mind! I was jealous that he even wanted to go running in the first place! There was nothing I wanted to do less than go out and run, for a number of reasons: it hurt; I could only jog for about 10 seconds before I was out of breath (weight+being out of shape+cigarettes – yeah…there was that, too); I was ashamed of how I looked in general, but I felt particularly ashamed of being seen trying to sort it out.
That last one deserves a little unpacking, I think, because it is pretty ridiculous, but it was truly something that really kept me from beginning to live better. Shame is an extraordinary feeling, and it can certainly lead us to making very irrational decisions. Think about the last time you were at the park, beach, etc…Can you remember anyone you saw jogging? I’m pretty sure it’s safe to say you saw some joggers, but they probably came and went like leaves falling from the trees around you! And yet there I was, agonizing over the possibility that I would be seen, and what – laughed at? Like people in the park would stop what they were doing, cover their mouths and open their eyes really big and follow my mass with their pointed finger, guffawing all the while?
The truth is that there were fingers pointing attached to hateful, laughing faces – the faces of my own demons. My own self-loathing. Quitting smoking was the first thing I’d done for my body in years, but the knock-on effect was that I suddenly wanted to wrap metaphorical arms about my traumatized body and apologize for all the years my metaphorical head was in the sand. The best way I could do that was to start eating right, start exercising, and stop allowing my own demons to be projected onto innocent bystanders in the park. They weren’t assholes…and I could huff and puff for a while if it meant I’d get better. And I did.
When I first began working out – doing yoga and jogging, because I’m pretty boring like that and I still pretty much do the same things I did when I started – it was so hard. C would come with me because he’s awesome. We lived near a park, so we would jog to the park together. At first I could only do half a lap around the park, and I’d walk back, cutting through the middle while he continued all the way around 2 or 3 times. I would run out of breath within a minute or so. C was under strict instructions that all conversation was off: not only could I not talk while I jogged at that point, but even trying to concentrate on someone else talking was far too much. My body heated up so fast, and I’m the type that turns bright red when I run. I’m sure my face looked like a beetroot on shoulders – again, no one noticed but me.
It was never easy, but I added a little here and there, and within a couple of months, I was running the whole of the park 1 1/2 times. Then we moved to the Philippines.
So for the year that followed, while I did do lots of yoga, I didn’t run even once. But I had started losing weight, and as I’d been off cigarettes for a year and a half at that point, starting was a little easier. Still, after we moved to France, I only ran about 10 minutes the first time we went, and it wasn’t easy. Again, I added a little more and a little more until by the end of the following summer I was running 5k a couple of times a week. Then winter came.
You see, we’ve been here three years now, and as Haute-Loire is a place with 4 distinct seasons, I’ve learned that I am not someone who can tolerate jogging in the snow. Ergo, for at least four months, between December and March, I don’t really jog at all, unless it’s super beautiful out and there’s no risk of ice on the ground (I’m not breaking another leg, thank you very much). So this summer, I started out jogging for about 20 minutes, and I added 20 steps here and 50 steps there, and since I have to turn back, that’s double the distance. Today I counted my steps from where I turn back now to where I turned back in March (because counting helps on days when jogging seems impossible), and over the course of the spring/summer I’ve added roughly 2,040 steps to my jog – and doubled my time. I’ll keep jogging a day or two per week until the weather cuts me off, and I’ll start the whole thing over again next year.
And yet, in a 40 minute jog, how many calories did I burn? About 400. That doesn’t seem incredibly significant, considering the fact that it equates roughly to a Starbucks (I never go to that horrible place, but it’s easy to find data on them) blueberry muffin.
Working out will only work in your favor when you stop using it as a tool to lose weight, and start using it as a tool to discover, and learn to love, your body.
So if it’s not burning off a whole chimichanga, what are the benefits? There are the obvious, physical ones: burning fat, increasing muscle. There are the psycho-physical ones: increased adrenaline, decreased cortizone. But I want to go all the way psychological/emotional here, and say that the real reason we should regularly work out is for the feelings.
1. Accomplishment. I know I just went through a long introduction in which I outlined in great detail all those terrible feelings that went with my first steps back into working out. But at the end of each of those difficult 15-, 20- or 30-minute sessions, the first extraordinary feeling was one of having done the thing I’d been talking about doing for ages. I put on my tennis shoes (trainers) and moved and ran out of breath and perspired and got red in the face.
2. Rhythm. After a few sessions, after I stopped running out of breath in the first 3 minutes, whether it was while doing sun salutations (which are still really hard, even after all these years!) or while jogging up a hill (albeit not a steep one…I don’t do hills), I started to find this rhythm within my body. It corresponded to my increased heart rate, to my breathing, to my feet landing on the pavement or the switch from one assana to another. This rhythm of movement, directly connected to the blood pumping through our veins and the air entering and exiting our lungs, is magical.
3. Comfort. Still more time passed, and my stamina increased. I could jog further, and it was less and less painful, until it wasn’t painful at all. I could get through my 10 sun salutations at the beginning of my yoga and go directly into the next pose, without catching my breath for 2 minutes first. I was sore the day after working out, but not too sore, and the soreness felt nice.
4. The little surprises. The other day, I jogged quite a lot further than I’d done over the rest of the summer, and expected the end of my jog to kill me. Instead, I was almost disappointed to finish – I could have kept going! That was unexpected, as are a lot of the ends of plateaus that feel as if they’ll go on forever. But the little surprises keep coming.
5. Joy. I am still not a natural exerciser. I still have to force myself to do it, and it’s never straight-forward. But now, when I’m in the middle of it, and when I’m able to let everything else disappear and get well and truly out of my worries and fears and regrets and into the moment of sweat and breath and movement, these are moments of unadulterated bliss that don’t really occur under any other circumstances.
Feeling this way about the skin I’m in has a direct affect on the food I’m willing to put down my gob. The fact that I work out has directly impacted the changed relationship I have with my body, and completely for the better. So even if I’m not burning all the calories I wished I was, the process has gone from being dreadful to being a wonderful – and necessary – part of my life. When I pass by people jogging in their 70s, all I think to myself now is, “Let that be me one day.”