Thanks, Natasha, for sharing your experience with getting active and staying in shape.  Since my experience is somewhat similar, I want share it.  When I moved to the big city of Montreal, things changed a great deal for me as well.  I no longer drove a car as much.  In fact I don’t own one!  If I need something these days, I simply walk to pick it up and then carry it home.  If I need to get somewhere further away, I walk a couple blocks and then take the metro.  All of this walking adds up to a lot more exercise in my life.

Unfortunately, all the tempting foods Montreal has to offer definitely add up.  It seems like every few blocks there is a shop with beautiful croissants, wines or cheeses. La vie est belle!

At some point, I realized that walking was not enough exercise for me. And so, I tried the running thing.  I loved being outside, but I didn’t stick to the plan.  My next idea was to join a gym.  Gyms are practical because they are not at the mercy of the weather. Plus, ‘plans’ and gyms go hand-in-hand.

I decided to join a Y (remember the old YMCA?). I thought that the Y would be right for me. When I first joined, I was actually intimidated by all of it.

Luckily, there are two parts to the gym.  The large weight training gym is super-serious: clanging metal, grunts and grimaces, the thunder of weights dropping to the floor, people whacking punching bags and cold looks and struts from muscle bound folks.  I did not feel like I belonged there.  The second, smaller weight-training gym is plus chill. There are only machines and hardly any free-weights to throw around. The people there want to work out, but in a chill setting.

I went to the chill gym, worked out on the elliptical machine, did a few weights, maybe ran a little. That was it.  I would sign up for 40 minutes of elliptical. My legs moved round and round, my arms back and forth, all on one spot. To make things interesting for myself, I would make my legs move in a backwards motion.  Ooooo.  Side-to-side was not an option. There was no interaction with others when I went to this gym. It was too chill! I felt like there was no care or concern for anyone in the room.  The whole thing was impossible without my Ipod!    I thought this is what people were supposed to do: suffer and then reap the benefits.  In my mind, I was there to burn calories.  It all boiled down to simple math: calories in, calories out.  One expends calories while clocking hours on the machines at the gym.  I did this like a hamster on a wheel for over a year!  How boring!!!

Then, I had some major life changes. I needed to switch it up.  Without getting into the details, life was telling me to take new paths and focus on what I really want. Now!  I was afraid to go to the classes.  All of my excuses were lame; what if I can’t do it? What if I look stupid? What if I don’t know anyone? What if etc.?   The need to change gave me courage. I ended up taking all the classes I had been missing out on.  I tried everything I wanted to try!  Cardio Cycling, Cuban Salsa, Yoga, Pilates, Pilates on the Ball, Classical Stretch, African Dances, Latin DancesBelly Dancing, Bollywood Bhangra, Dance Cardio, Zumba, even Hip Hop!  I think it is amazing that we have so many classes in one Y!

In the first Cuban Salsa classes I was stepping on other people’s feet.  Part of the hilariousness of it all was that I was trying to do dance moves with huge shoes built for stability while running and not for fancy foot work in a salsa class!  Talk about embarrassing!  It was seriously hard to keep up and get the routines.  I initially gave myself little anti-pep talks.  “Tammy, you might like dancing, but kid, you might never really dance.”  I was starting from the very beginning.  I had to attend five classes before I could do anything that even resembled dance.  The shoes probably didn’t help!  Through all of this, I discovered that movement was so much more than the simple math of calorie-burning.

I feel like  my plan has evolved past calories in, calories out.  I am continuing with dance classes, classical stretch and yoga classes.  I stick to it because these classes offer more than an elliptical machine could.  This is not to say that I will never set my feet on a treadmill or elliptical trainer again.  They just aren’t a part of my ‘plan’ anymore.

I love my plan. First of all, I like the social aspect.  In only a few weeks I met people who have become some of my best friends.  It’s easy to go to class if I know that I will see my friends there.  Not only that, I am being led by inspiring athletes that encourage me to go for it.  I feel very lucky to have met such people so committed to and excelling in their interests.  Trust me, this really helps me stick with my plan.  Secondly, it is personal.  I work through a great deal of emotional tangles when I move my body.  I work through issues of the ego; I let go of comparisons and I re-learn important life lessons (like, practice generally pays off!).  I experiment with new ways of approaching the world with confidence.  If I know it, I try to own it.  My plan is a work in progress.

While claims are made about how exercise is  a great way to balance moods and reduce seasonal blues, I believe that there is a particular joy that comes with dance.  It is fun to know how to dance, right party people?  And I have never felt so relaxed than after a yoga class.  I think that learning routines – some of which are based upon very old dances and yoga poses – is good for my brain and my body.  I feel like I am becoming more centred through all of this both personally and socially.  My simple plan to “get some exercise” in a social setting helps me widen my connectedness to the world. This lets me approach the world in totally new ways.

Why have these yoga poses and dances stood the test of time?  One day it just struck me; I had an epiphany about that very question.  Herbalists have many plant remedies that help to break up various forms of stagnation in the body, from the lymphatic system, to the respiratory system to the circulatory system to the digestive and reproductive systems.  My epiphany was that movement in these particular classes are just as important for breaking up stagnation.  It is good for you!  Even from an herbalist’s perspective!  When I shared this with my dance teacher she exclaimed emphatically, “Of course, the body was meant to MOVE!”

Yeah, it is as simple as that.  No matter what, we need to move.

By: Tammy Schmidt, Montreal