My Morning Workout: Barre

So, since the last post I made, about skin care when life gets hectic, life got hectic and I very clearly did not prioritize blogging. Sorry, guys. Anyway, today I thought I’d talk a little bit about my current favorite morning workout: Barre fitness. Those of you who look at my Instagram story may have noticed the odd early-morning story about being on my way to the gym at an absurd time of day.

A caveat: I only go to Barre class once a week because it’s not the most convenient or inexpensive way to work out. But it is something I enjoy doing and I’ve definitely noticed some positive improvements in my body. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m sometimes a dancer, and even returned to ballet class as a thirty-year-old several years ago. Sadly, my new job in the city means that I don’t have the schedule flexibility to go to ballet class as often, plus my evenings are often monopolized by rehearsals, so exercise classes fall by the wayside.

So I needed to find something that I could do before work in the morning. Something that was convenient to work and that I found interesting. So when I found a gym near my downtown subway stop that offered Pilates and Barre classes, I thought I’d check it out. I signed up for a five-day unlimited trial and managed to go to three classes in five days. And, despite the general feeling of wobbliness of the legs that resulted, I’m glad I did. I managed to find a Barre teacher who I liked far above the other two, and she teaches at a time where I can go to class, wash up, and get to my desk on time with a bit of breakfast on the way.

Now, every Tuesday morning, I wake up at 5:30 a.m., confuse the cat, upset Fiancé, and irritate my internal clock, pack a large handbag with a change of clothes, and get on a 6-a.m. train downtown. I get there in time to stop for a cuppa with milk and sugar because by this time, my body has realized that I’m about to ask it to do things and it wants calories and caffeine first. Then, I make my way a few blocks down and settle in at the gym. I sip my tea and maybe stretch a bit. Lately the room has been rather warm, which is quite nice for a class that requires a bit of flexibility.

When class starts, the instructor leads us through some warm-ups, arm exercises, and then takes us to the barre for stretching, pliés, degagés, and other exercises. It’s very effective at making my muscles shake and cry out, but lately I’ve noticed that as I continue going to class once a week, I’m seeing an improvement in my alignment and stamina. Plus, I just feel graceful, bendy, and strong when I walk out, rather than bleary and a bit sweaty. As my schedule clears up after my next show, I may find myself committing to more Barre mornings, honestly, despite the fact that it’s a bit expensive.

The main thing I like both about Barre in general and about this teacher in particular is that she grounds the class in dance technique, rather than just making it about the burn. She calls the exercises by their ballet names, and even has us do things like pirouette prep exercises. Other Barre classes I went to treat it more like a Pilates class with a bar in the middle. And while I do appreciate a good Pilates class, when I go to Barre, I’m trying to reconnect with my inner ballerina. And this way, I can.

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How Playing Pokemon Go Led Me To Mordor

Hi! I’m Elizabeth, and I’m an adult woman that plays Pokemon. Or rather, I did play Pokemon, for a couple months at least. You see, when I returned from a business trip, I found that Boyfriend (oops, Fiancé) had discovered this new game that he thought we should try playing together. He plays a lot of computer and video games and has tried to get me interested in the past, but this one was different: this one makes you go outside. And I love going outside. I found it actually strengthened our relationship because we went on long walks together and then some of the time we spent lounging on the couch on our smartphones we were actually interacting and discussing the game.

Plus, I found a wild Pikachu on my walk to work and they’re adorable.

Now, I walk 3 miles to and from work every day and try to get in a little more besides that. But on days I work from home, or on weekends, I find it hard to get off the couch. Pokemon became a great motivator to walk on normally-sedentary days. I liked the fact that I was walking for a purpose, rather than just for the sake of walking. Walking with a goal in mind. It made me feel rather like an adventurer from one of the fantasy books I read. I couldn’t get where I needed to go other than by walking, so I walked all over the place.

And then Fiancé and I went to Montreal and we REALLY walked. Like, 10 miles a day. We fell out of the habit of playing Pokemon because we didn’t want to be distracted by our phones in an unfamiliar area, but we walked a lot. And it got me thinking about what I really liked about Pokemon Go: the idea of walking for a purpose.

That brought up a memory of a walking challenge I’d heard of a while ago called the Eowyn Challenge, where you log your daily walking and as it adds up, you set goals in terms of the landmarks in the journeys of the characters in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. So you can virtually follow Sam and Frodo’s journey to Mordor by showing how your daily mileage adds up. So rather than going back to trying to catch seven gajillion Magikarp near the lake near my house, I decided to log my daily miles in terms of a walk to Rivendell. And then Lothlorien. And onwards. I know that if I walk an average of 5 miles a day, it’ll get me to Rivendell in about three months, so that’s a good start, and it inspires me to add walks in, and plan longer walks to bump up my average mileage.

It also helps reinforce walking as a mode of transportation for me. When I’m in an unfamiliar city, I walk a lot more, simply because I don’t have a car, and I’m not familiar with the public transit. I’d rather walk a few miles than try to figure out the bus system sometimes. Especially when doing so involves testing my confidence in my French language skills. But in my own town, I default to driving or taking the train a little longer to walk a little less. Why do that? Why not try walking a couple miles to that lunch place I like on my work-from-home day? Why not walk to my favorite coffee shop when I have the time on the weekend? And along the way, I get to pretend I’m a Tolkeinian adventurer, albeit with less hirsute feet.

Renewal, Rebirth, and a New Year

With the new year beginning and the solstice signaling the return of longer days, even the most devout shunner of resolutions can feel a bit of the pull of renewal. Throw a holiday illness into that mix, and one finds a perfect storm of beginning again.

This week, I open a play. It’s Shakespeare, something I haven’t done for ten years. I will expound upon my love of the Bard of Avon later, but suffice to say, it’s been fantastically fun. Except when I’ve been worried all week about the impact of my lingering illness and raw sore throat on my performance. Thankfully, I seem to be on the mend, just in the nick of time.

Last week, I spent most of my time on the sofa, wrapped in a blanket, with a cup of honeyed tea, and either my work laptop or an episode of Midsomer Murders keeping me company. I had started a calisthenics routine after Christmas, but found that cut short. So with a new year, a schedule newly free of rehearsals, and new health, I plan to take on some new exercise. Perhaps jogging on the weekends, and calisthenics in the mornings. Something to get the blood pumping and tone my muscles for aerials.

In the past, I’ve been a New Year’s dieter and exerciser. One year, I actually began my training for a marathon race with a 5k run on New Year’s Day. Other years, I’ve gone through some sort of elimination or detox. Now that I’m older, wiser, and less willing to give up life’s pleasures, I’m less likely to adhere to any sort of detox. Perhaps I shall try an electronic detox to get myself reading some of the books that have backed up. But it will be done with scone in hand, in moderation.

And really, rather than overhauling, I’ve learned instead to refine. Rather than throwing out my wardrobe and revamping it, instead I figure out how to put together what I have in new ways and buy only to fill the gaps. I’ve come to accept myself rather than wanting to change it. And that is the best kind of renewal for a new year: the renewal of one’s ingrained sense of self.

The Solitude of the Water

My trip to Boyfriend’s parents’ lake house earlier this month re-invigorated my love of the water. I loved getting up and going for a morning swim every day we were there. Most of the time, Boyfriend would follow along in the kayak, as we got up a little late and there were other boaters out, but the last morning, I was ready to swim by eight in the morning, and it was early enough that only a few meandering fishermen shared the lake with me. It was lovely to feel the peace and quiet of open water in such a beautiful natural setting.

When I got home, I immediately missed being in the water. Despite not being very attached to horoscopes, I’ve always thought it was amusing that I’m a Pisces, as I love to be in the water. When I was a child, I would go to the pool and stay in the water until my lips turned blue and my grandmother practically had me fished out by force! So when I heard that a local aquatic center opened their pool at six in the morning, I thought I should start swimming before I left for work.

It’s largely a quiet bunch, mostly older, who inhabit the pool in the morning. There is the occasional person my own age, and the lifeguards are all quiet young, but mostly I see seniors doing their morning workout in the water. I’ve been fortunate to get a lane most of the time, but at a small community center, the lifeguards don’t mind if we rearrange the ropes a little to swim laps outside of the lanes. The water isn’t too cold, but also not bathwater-warm like some indoor pools, and even with people on either side of me, I feel alone, cushioned from the world around my by water.

I only swim breaststroke anymore. I used to try to mix in other strokes, but I like breaststroke. It’s peaceful and doesn’t splash, but I still feel my body getting stronger as I go. I think my favorite part of each lap is when I have just turned around and I have the entire lane ahead of me to peacefully glide through the water. Sadly, my skin still smells like chlorine, but it is a small price to pay for my little morning retreat.

A New Month and a New Start

It’s the first of July, and the beginning of the second half of the year! The end of a month always feels a bit like a mini-New-Years-Day for me because it’s the perfect time to take stock of life and see what might need changing. June found me facing some uncomfortable truths about the state of my health, and so I’ve made a commitment to move more, even buying a fancy fitness tracker to do so. I’ve also resolved to spend the month of July re-vamping my eating habits by adding lots more fruits and veggies. With our housemate gone, I have the freedom to use noisy appliances in the mornings, and so I can make my favorite green smoothie with breakfast. That, along with a big salad with lunch will go a long way towards filling my belly with healthy, vitamin-rich veggies, so that I will hopefully be less tempted by the quick and easy snack foods that led to weight creep and other health bugaboos.

This is Boyfriend’s and my first month of having our house all to ourselves! I’ve already told you about some of the garden improvement we’ve undertaken in the past month or so, but now we get to redecorate most of the downstairs of our house! I already have a plan for each room, and hopefully we won’t have to buy too much, but it will involve some heavy lifting. Right now, it’s kind of amusing how we’re watching a television on the floor in the living room rather than bother bringing down our stand, but it works for now.

I’ve also started making an effort to exercise more. In addition to aerial class, which I’m trying to do twice a week to build my strength up for a while, I’ve also been running a couple times a week, and hopefully will be fit enough soon to run with Boyfriend on the weekends. He would slow down for me, but I feel bad when I have to stop and walk and complain. And I’m also trying to just walk more. When I’m not running around to meetings at work, I try to park as far away as I can, and take walks during the day. It’s also nice to get some fresh air and sunshine, really, although I’ve taken to wearing one of my large sunhats when I walk in the midday so I don’t get too much sun!

Hopefully, July will prompt a bit of a new beginning for me, with better health leading to a better mood. Is anyone else taking advantage of a mid-year tune-up?

A Victorian Calisthenics Workout

It’s January, and I’ve been lazy through the holidays. Coupled with the lack of sleep from late-night rehearsals, and I’ve found myself feeling run-down. This week, I decided I ought to do something about this. I ought to get up earlier and eat healthier. And I ought to exercise.

But what to do when it’s below freezing and dark outside in the morning? I could do yoga, but I’ve found myself getting bored with my yoga routine lately. And then I found a couple articles on zero-equpiment circuit routines. It made me think, hey, how did people exercise before things like yoga and running and six thousand machines came to the US? I mean, the short answer is that they didn’t because people in the past either didn’t realize the benefits of exercise, or else they led strenuous enough lives not to need specific exercise time.

And then I did some research and found this site, which reproduces a Victorian manual for women’s calisthenics. Now, I always thought of calisthenics as zero-equipment exercises that are usually used for warm-ups. But this manual seems to make the distinction between calisthenics and gymnastics, perhaps suggesting that women ought not to do the jumping around that gymnastics involved. But even the equipment is very minimal. Most of the exercises can be done with dumbbells, a lightweight wand of wood (like a broom handle), and a resistance band. And the free exercises, in addition to being a wonderful light workout, look like great actor’s warmups. I might bring them out before performances this week.

Now, it’s interesting that this Victorian reference specifically recommends strength-building exercises for women when so much conventional wisdom of the time (persisting into the 20th century) was that exercise would harm women. But with so many women experiencing muscle atrophy from corset-wearing, the author makes a good point that strength exercises are necessary for beauty. It’s the same idea behind Pilates, which is another vintage system of exercise. In addition, dancers have trained more strenuously for centuries.

So I’ve come up with a simple, low- or no-equipment plan for increasing my strength using vintage exercise. This morning, without the benefit of having dug my weight equipment out of the closet, I did a zero-equipment workout consisting of more modern-accepted calisthenics, like pushups, squats, windmills, and planks. I warmed up with some arm and foot circles, then then alternated exercises every thirty seconds for a little over ten minutes. Then, I finished off with a stretching routine I developed to increase my flexibility as a dancer. Perhaps in the future I’ll incorporate some Pilates or some of the Victorian calisthenics with a band or dumbbells, and even add some dancing to my routine. In the spring, when the weather warms, I can even do my routine outside.