This morning, I just took my first exercise class in probably a decade. My beloved, adorable, oldest childhood friend recommended it (bless her heart) and convinced me to go. Even in the middle of winter, I still make a point of trekking through Central Park on foot or bike almost every day, but the weather conditions have been particularly challenging this week.
On the brochure, the profile of a young, tiny, firm buttock gracing the cover promised a worthwhile time investment. The place was close by, and offered lots of attractive amenities, so I thought, why not, it could be nice to shake things up—I might even learn something new.
The class was described as a blend of Pilates, Lotte Berk, yoga, and ballet. Images of finely whittled torso leaping across the floor in grand jetés came to mind. I dropped the kids off at school and made my way through the fifteen or so blocks of headwinds to the Madison Avenue location. That walk would turn out to be the most effective part of the excursion.
But before I continue, I should mention that I generally stay out of gyms and exercise classes for a few reasons:
1. Fresh air is essential. I place a premium on fresh air, especially when it is high in negative ions; in New York, that means in the winter, fall, and spring. The indoor lifestyle requires city dwellers to take as much time outdoors as possible. Maximize your daily intake of new, clean air with long walks, jogs, ice-skating, skiing, biking, outdoor yoga, martial arts, team sports, or whatever else gets you breathing deeply outdoors. The more time you spend outdoors and the more deeply you breathe, the more you bathe your cells in freshly charged air and revitalize your body.
The fresh air factor is gravely overlooked in the exercise class and “gym rat” culture. Without a regular bath of simple, negative-ionic-charged air, the cells will get sluggish, weak, and prone to the mutations of free-radical damage from stagnation and acidity. A brisk walk for an hour outside in the fresh air will always beat an indoor exercise class. This is also why it’s so important to sleep with the windows open—to renew the blood with oxygen to maximize the benefits of sleep.
2. I have far better alternatives. I’ve got my feet and my bike. Sometimes, I can even get to a tennis court or a mountain or a beach. (Next week, I’ll be in Jackson, Wyoming, stocking up on mountain air). At home I have my rebounder, and when the mood strikes, I can move all the furniture and dance my heart out. Yes, the body has to move every day, but we need to know how to move it without someone telling us what leg to lift when and how many times! I’ve studied yoga and dance for years and strongly believe that they should be learned not as ends unto themselves, so one can take classes from here to eternity, but so one can learn how to use and move one’s own body. You have a body. Master it. These disciplines can offer guidance so you don’t make mistakes of alignment. But then take what you know and own your moves!
Learning to master your body is not something we should even have to be taught. It’s basic and intuitive, though the right guidance can certainly accelerate the learning process and help prevent injury. Owning our bodies, rather than just blindly entrusting them to exercise instructors year after year, is yet another aspect of our life education that is undervalued and overlooked.
3. Gyms and exercise classes are hotbeds for self-loathing. Gym-goers constantly compare themselves to each other and either hate or worship what they see in the mirror. Either way, their physical self-esteem is dictated by the mirror or the eyes of others. I often forget that women especially are vulnerable to this competitive reflex, because in the detox lifestyle it tends to dissolve. But the moment I step into a gym—BAM!—I’m reminded of all the bad feelings that keep everyone pounding away on the machines. In my experience, I find gyms and exercise classes to be unhealthy for the mind and self-esteem.
4. They depress me. Gyms carry a heavy air of disappointment and resignation. Women especially are chronically disappointed with the results, yet resigned to spending hours of their lives in exercise classes in hopes of eventually feeling better about their bodies—or at least maintaining the status quo. They follow regiments that will never give them the body they want, but they do it anyway because they don’t know what else to do.
5. They frustrate me. Gyms remind me of all the people who need help but are beyond my reach. I wish I could emancipate them from their old, useless patterns. While I already have wonderful clients who inspire me every day, I need only go to a gym to see that there are still masses of people who are still stuck in the caged mentality. Meanwhile, they look terrible—you can see it in the way they are retaining water, in the puffiness and dark circles around their eyes, in the lines and weight in their faces (not to mention elsewhere) that indicate struggling livers and kidneys. In short, their blood chemistry is way out of whack, yet they keep attending their exercise classes and slathering on expensive creams and makeup.
6. The music is bad. What more do I have to say?
But today, I went to this exercise class with an open mind. I was looking forward to lifting, reaching, and twisting my torso, moving my body in elegant, fluid movements, tuning into my core power. I enjoy engaging my body’s strength and flexibility and remembering the importance of good posture, a nimble spine, and an open center.
This class didn’t offer anything remotely like what I was hoping for. For all its popularity among Upper East Side women (think The Nanny Diaries types), there was nothing modern or evolved about it. As I said to my husband, it could have been 1983 with Olivia Newton John on the speakers and Jane Fonda calling out the moves. In fact, that would have been more fun and more effective—and the music would have been better!
I lost heart about twenty minutes into the class. The moves were not even intuitive, let alone evolved. For an hour we were asked to move in ways that made the body more tense, more in need of correction! This class was an unnecessary stress all around.
I thought back to the cover of the brochure, with its promise of a tight, tiny set of buttocks. Then I looked around the room at the women who seemed to be regulars. I don’t mean this in a catty way at all, just as an observation in light of the advertising: no one had a good figure (really, not a single one among thirty women, not even the teacher).
Here’s the thing. That image on the brochure, were it not so obviously photo-shopped, could only belong to a more evolved type of human, one who lives in harmony with the natural world like a “native”—not a Manhattan socialite or any member of the “civilized” race over age thirteen. You cannot have a set of buttocks like that unless you’re living like a native or you share a gene pool with one!
So here are all these women looking for sleek, fit bodies, trying desperately to fight the clock. They are gathered for an hour of agony with all their accumulated intestinal waste matter and corresponding gas pressure and water retention. They suck in their cores and lift their legs five dozen times in a variety of movements for sixty minutes, but they are never going to get anywhere. They’ll go for a ladies lunch over grilled hormone (I mean “chicken”) salads and decaf cappuccinos and be back again later that week, or the very next day, to suck in their stomachs and contract their muscles again. They’ll sign up for another series of classes and rush to make it on time, grabbing a protein bar on the way.
They’ll hate every second of it (this class was not remotely enjoyable) and they’ll still hate their bodies when they strip their impeccably tailored designer pants off their legs and stand in front of the mirror. What they will not get from this class or the lifestyle that goes with it is that set of buttocks advertised on the brochure, or that wonderful innocence of sometimes forgetting you have a body when you feel so good in your skin.
The way I understand it, this class is booked up on the hour, every hour, every day. This is what these women—who are supposedly in the know on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, and who can afford anything—do with their resources. (Why on earth aren’t they calling Doris for food delivery, drinking veggie juice, and eliminating all that accumulation through a colonic tube? But who am I to suggest such a thing?!)
As I was pulling my things out of my locker, I overheard a couple of the women discussing the many businesses they’ve created and successfully sold. These are not a bunch of dim gals. It would be easy to pigeonhole this group as brainless ladies who lunch and shop—but no, these are highly educated, ambitious entrepreneurs and executives between the ages of 25 and 60. Yet, for all their higher learning, they know nothing about how to care for their bodies.
Sometimes I feel like a puma pacing around in a circus cage. We live in the Big, Bad Apple, which I both love and hate. Half the time, I’m in love with this city; the rest of the time, I find myself looking out, hands clenched around the bars, praying for escape (especially around this time of year, when my kids are climbing the walls!).
So I take laps around Central Park, and I find ways to keep myself connected with my center so I don’t hurl myself against the cage and hurt myself. But it is a cage, nonetheless, and not a place for either a puma or a human.
However, on days like today I realize that my cage is not what it used to be. I sometimes forget that people still beat themselves up mentally and physically in search of a better life experience in their bodies. I used to live in a cage like that, a cage of unfulfilled promises.
Yes, I’m still in a kind of cage; I still move within a culture that is a threat and affront to the human spirit. My cage still makes the cherished untamable part of me hugely resentful at times. But my cage is not what it was ten years ago. I’m not in a supermax lockdown prison like I was during the first twenty years of my life. Today, it’s more like what in penitentiary lingo is called “pre-release.”
As I suffered through the remaining forty-five minutes of class, reluctant to put my body through some of these unnatural maneuvers, I couldn’t help thinking: It’s such a pity. Here all these women are investing all this time, energy, pain, and hope in this torture chamber with hideous music (filled with lyrics that objectify women), when all that lean vitality is right there, waiting to be freed. If they’d remove the waste and gas pressure, they’d find natural, outstanding muscle tone, skin that naturally hugs the body, and cells and tissues glowing with wellness.
I continued along that train of thought: Give me two weeks with them, with no exercise at all, but all the right moves for removing waste, gas, and fluid imbalances, and watch them start to see what they are looking for. But I couldn’t very well stand up in the middle of the class and say this.
I waited until class was over, feigning as much participation as I could, gathered my things and headed home. I would love nothing more than to help these women. But, I’m not going to get into the commerce game and build the kind of establishment that will attract them. I had a fleeting thought of speaking to the manager about doing a lecture series there or joining forces somehow, but all the worldly logistics that go into something like that would take even more time away from my understanding children, from my own reunion with my wholeness, and from what I can offer all of you! So, I take the experience for what it’s worth—a reminder that the diet and exercise world has not changed much.
Now, allow me to return once more to the perfectly poised buttocks on the brochure. (Really, you should see them!) What makes such buttocks native to the world but alien to our culture? Such buttocks come from clean lineage, lived in the outdoors on alkaline water, air, and sunshine. They come from cells that have remained pristine by their very interconnectivity with the natural world—cells that have soaked in the rays of the sun through the skin, absorbed that powerful substance into the blood and circulated it throughout the body. Such a body is unfazed by its beauty because it is one with the world, in love with life. There’s no place for vanity or one-upmanship in such a body.
Sometimes it seems like there’s a big time and energy investment in this lifestyle — from arranging the fresh veggie juice, fresh salads, food combining and bowel cleansing to contending with the critisism of friends and famiy. Whenever I get the least bit annoyed with what it takes to keep myself in high states of health and mental clarity, I think about what life was like before I knew and implemented this knowledge. This class reminded me of what unnatural and uncomfortabe lengths other people go to to try to get some physical balance and aesthetic appeal. It was yet another reminder that I should never complain about my rituals and the time and effort they may take. I’m so fortunate to have the knowledge I have and to put that time and energy into things that work and are not only to my immediate and aesthetic benefit but to my long term vitality and ease of being.
Tomorrow, I’ll bundle up and head out into my little wilderness of Central Park. I’ll be grateful for the crisp (ok, Arctic) air and I’ll give my cells their bath in the renewing, oxygenated atmosphere and the cage won’t feel so limiting.
As a native of California, for years I wished away the months of brutal cold in the Northeast. But because of what I know now about clean Arctic air, I embrace it as the cornerstone of my winter health regime. I just make sure to have the right accessories: wooly hat, gloves, and iPod. The only healthy and sure way to get your buttocks looking more like a native’s is to do everything in your power to renew your blood chemistry.
So get outside and go native, not neurotic!