It’s been a few years since I’ve practiced hot-ish yoga, and I was worried about it when I took a class recently. My lower back was on the top of my worry list, my hamstrings, not too far behind.
“Dig deeper,” the teacher said just when I was considering going into child’s pose. For good.
“It’s not forever, just for now.”
If you don’t live in Florida or Mexico or Jamaica or California or Arizona, these are the dog days of winter even now that it’s technically spring. I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for five years, and I don’t think we went to a movie theater for six months. Every time we thought about going, one of us would say, let’s wait for a dreary day.
We’ve had worse winters in the Northeast, but regardless of how dreary it is, it’s still dreary.
Day after day.
And so it gets harder to wake up on a cold, dark morning and head outside for a run or to the gym for a workout. And it’s just as difficult after work when it’s also cold and dark.
I was having lunch with my long-time Vassar classmate Neile, and it was a miserable, rainy day.
“Did you run this morning?” Neile asked me.
“I did,” I admitted.
I tried to explain to Neile that I half prefer exercising when the weather is less than ideal.
Toughing It Out
“I’ve got all these things to deal with when it rains,” I started to say. “I’ve got to watch out for wet leaves and fallen branches, which keeps me focused, and I think it helps me get tough.”
As I was listening to my own words, I was thinking I might sound ridiculous, even if I knew getting tough or building endurance is a personal goal.
So in this spirit, I found myself in an hour-and-15-minute yoga class in a 95-degree yoga studio infused with patchouli that I knew from experience would be both mentally and physically uncomfortable.
I’m always amazed when I look around the room of a serious yoga class and notice how fit everyone is. Is this just a warm-up for a workout or run?
Because it had been so long since I’d practiced this kind of yoga, I couldn’t resist reflecting on how my demeanor had changed. It’s a fast-paced power flow, and although I know it’s okay to go at your own pace, you almost never want to.
Today I didn’t need to.
“Surf your edge,” is what the teacher, also a performer, dancer, and choreographer, said just as I was discovering mine.
Surf Your Edge
A few years ago if someone had told me to surf my edge I’d be conflicted about whether she was talking about Rossignols or actual surfboards. In either case, I’d be like whatever because the idea would have simply whizzed right past me.
So it occurs to me that running outside in the cold and rain and allowing myself to be uncomfortable – not forever, just for now – is starting to pay off. Because I was able to keep up during the yoga class, I could focus on what I was supposed to be focusing on – my breath, my form, my balance – instead of when the class was going to end.
I’m not saying I wasn’t ready for it to end, because I was, it’s just that I was also able to stay in the moment one challenge at a time.
Not forever, just for now, one by one.
During my conversations with Neile, as well as other friends who exercise regularly, we often talk about whether we’re seeing real benefits to the time we put in on the trail or at the gym. We’re not purists, and we’re very aware of the many cosmetic surgeries and dermatologic options available to us as our metabolisms slow down or otherwise change. Of course, how we look and feel matter, but that’s not the most important aspect of exercise worth considering.
I told Neile that before I started making exercise a routine I used to wake up in the mornings with an awareness of my bones, my frame. Now when I wake up and, in the words of strength coach James Kilgallon, do a self-assessment; I’m rested and energized. I can still feel spots that need work, but typically it only takes 10 minutes of moving before I feel pretty great.
For me, that is great, yet what Kilgallon is focusing on is developing “power habits,” the ones that can have a cascading effect on other areas of your life. In fact, he puts exercise as the number one power habit because exercise is a catalyst for change and growth.
Exercise = Money in the Bank
Aside from getting me to look and feel better, exercise has helped me develop endurance and build resilience, which is, at any age, like money in the bank.
I don’t even need to mention how important it is to exercise vigorously in terms of achieving and maintaining overall health. There’s practically a new scientific study published every day that reports this.
I do feel and look better, and everything in my closet fits. But for me, the payoff of exercise as a power habit is about being the opposite of fragile. “Fragile” is not a word that anyone would have used to describe me when I was younger, but becoming mentally and physically fragile is a hazard for both men and women as the years tick by.
Toughing it out by running in the rain or the snow or by twisting a bit more in a hot yoga studio is acknowledging that I am tough, that I am resilient.
That if I need to, when I need to, I can hang in there.
Surf my edge.
Not forever. Just for now.
Published in HoneyGood.
Carolee Belkin Walker is a wellness blogger, podcaster, and freelance journalist whose work appears in the Washington Post, Women’s Running, the Chicago Tribune, the Toronto Sun, the Huffington Post, Thrive Global, the Baltimore Sun, the Tyler Morning Telegraph, and others. Her book, Getting My Bounce Back, includes chapters by Reuel Tizabi, a certified personal trainer and a doctor of physical therapy student at the University of Maryland, Baltimore.