Archives for posts with tag: exercise
Hip hop street dancing, aka break dancing, in ...

not quite this style...

I just got back home after almost two hours of Hip-Hop Dance class. I’ve never really listened to Hip-Hop music, I’ve not paid much attention (outside of some sideline, “Oh, wow look at what that person just did, so bendy!”) to Hip-Hop Dance or Music videos, and I’ve not taken a Hip-Hop Dance class, ever, before this year.

A bit of a background: When I was five years old, my mother asked me if I’d like to take dance lessons. I said “yes”. Or, I assume I did, because I was soon enrolled in them. We did Tap. I took Tap Dancing for six or seven years after that. I also began Jazz Dance lessons from about age eight. When I was eleven years old, I stopped taking dance lessons. My feet had reached size 10, and, where I lived, low-heel tap-shoes were not available in a size above 9. I was not going to Tap Dance (let alone walk) in high heels when I was eleven years old. I didn’t get a pair of “heels” until I was in my twenties, for that matter.

So, I stopped dancing. I went out dancing from time to time in my late teens to early twenties, and jiggled around the dance floor a bit… but I always felt oversized and uncomfortable. When my bar-going friends mostly moved away, and I was a professional, busy working person, I stopped dancing altogether.

Last summer, I took a few African Dances classes. I liked it, I felt good after the classes, and they made me move. I still attend at least one of these classes every week. I am very comfortable with it now. I feel free and alive when I dance in that class. It is unlike Tap or Jazz Dance, but I do see some basic dance connections.

For fun, and with my friend’s encouragement, we took a Hip Hop Dance class one night this January. It was… a challenge. It was so different in structure and movement from dance I’ve done before. Despite all that, I found it to be fun!

Now I’ve been back to that class about four or five times, whenever my schedule allows. It is still a big challenge, and I do admit to feeling a little frustrated with that. However, I feel physically better after having done the class, and I recognise that the mental and physical challenges of extending my own comfort zones is a real benefit to me. I am thankful that I have the opportunity to take a range of different classes at my local YMCA. I didn’t have this opportunity as a child; who knows how different life would have been if I’d had a chance to dance wearing sneakers (Hip Hop) or barefoot (African Dances) !!!

It is never too late to start.

Natasha Henderson, Montreal

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Gym and Alternatives

Natasha Henderson

Bikepath in parc Lafontaine, towards the south...

Parc Lafontaine... a place for springtime (and year-round) jogging...

Several months ago I spent a couple of hours in the gym injuring myself. How did I injure myself? In between running on the track and doing some weights, I used a stubborn elliptical machine for half an hour, and then I used a stairmaster afterwards. The inflexible machinery, made for a certain body with a particular stride and length of legs and arms, created a big ball of stress that centred on my knee. This stress was compounded by a tough workout on the stairmaster. I hurt myself from overuse on these machines that day. The injury created an awful tension in my left knee… so I lost a lot of flexibility and strength. I babied it, naturally, so that it became standard for me to limp slightly. I didn’t run anymore.

In the last couple of months, however, I have been attending regular yoga, dance, and classical stretch classes. I haven’t done very much “free elliptical” (that’s my term for the machines that allow you to choose your own stride, rather than having an awkward one prescribed to you) nor have I set my sights on anything like a stairmaster. I avoid the rigidly paced elliptical machine like the Plague. I have been using some free weights and doing a few lat-pulldowns every once in a while. That’s been pretty much it for exercise lately. Anyhow, the other day, I thought that I’d improved enough to allow myself a little run on a treadmill. I booked in about a half an hour on the treadmill, and maybe 20 minutes of that was spent jogging or running.

I went faster, faster, and faster. I felt like I could fly, again. It was a liberating feeling, a wonderful experience. I hope to be able to run through the Parc Lafontaine again this spring… there is nothing quite like flying amongst the blossoms and singing birds. Makes me even more glad to be alive.

Natasha Henderson, Montreal

Canadian Santa Claus drawing from 1875

Santa seems to be reminding us that sharing is one of the most important things to do during Christmas

When the heat of the season is upon us, there are a few ways we stay cool.

Break it down into little tasks. Decide to do a couple things every day and stick to that.

Be realistic as to what you can accomplish in a particular time-frame. It might be lovely to have a home bedecked with every imaginable DIY project out there, but if it is a total stress to accomplish, is it really worth it in the end?  A few branches and a couple candles are great seasonal décor items that require minimal effort to put together.  One plate of freshly homemade cookies (or choco-almo date balls) is always impressive.

Take time to relax. Take a bath, listen to relaxing music, watch your favourite seasonal movies or go out to dance.

Make more time for yourself and drop some things off “the to-do list”. Do I really need to make THAT many types of cookies? Do my guests care if my bathtub is sparkling or not?

Cook simply, for example soups and wraps.  Even if I am making the full traditional Christmas lunch, I try to prepare some things ahead of time so that I am not overwhelmed on the day when everyone is together in my home.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Working together can be part of the celebration.

Keep your regular routines in place, but spice it up here and there whenever it will be fun to do so! For example, if you really want to make reindeer-shaped pancakes, then do it! However if “everyone expects” you to make reindeer-shaped pancakes and you’re not feeling up to it, then do something from your “Christmas Fun List” when you do feel so inspired.  These activities and projects can be enjoyable, enlivening processes that help us find joy in the dark of winter.  If it is not, don’t do it.

Know that it’s not all going to be ruined if everything is not in place. It will be ruined if you have a nervous breakdown.

Stick to a budget. It is obvious that dealing with outrageous credit card bills in January, while trudging through the dark of winter, will not be pretty.  Everyone will still love you even if they don’t receive gifts that are completely beyond your budget.

Order things online. For example, we can order things online through Etsy and send them to loved ones.  Easy-peasy stress free gift giving.

If you are feeling emotionally frazzled, take a break from sugar, alcohol, grains containing gluten and dairy. Buy a big bunch of kale, some brown rice and the protein of your choice.  I know that this is the last thing we want to hear right now, but sitting down to simple meals helps to create peace.

We take time to chat with friends. Calling up a therapist can also be a good idea.

Take it outside. Take a walk after meals, go skating, go skiing.  Get a good dose of fresh air and take the time to exercise every day.

If you can, Don’t Drive. Notice how coo-coo it is out there right now? Avoid being outside during rush hours.

Try some fun things that could become new traditions… an example: three of my family members would go to Mass on Christmas eve. Two of us would not. My brother and I would make healthy pizzas while everyone else was away, play Beatles music very loudly and sing along, do our own thing. Then when everyone else came back, the music would change to soft carols, and we’d all share a nice supper together. My brother and I were assigned a task: “Make Supper” but it was made to be fun.

The last entry reminds me of that Dar Williams song, The Christians and the Pagans.  Taking on others and their religious expression, choice of profession, lifestyle, political leanings, etc., during the holiday creates a great deal of stress.  While being gracious towards others tends to be perceived as near-miraculous, often it can help a great deal in reducing stress.

Write a letter to Santa.

Two words: Take Out.

One word: Yoga.

Natasha Henderson and Tammy Schmidt, keeping the stress to a minimum in Montreal.

Jogging with dog at Carcavelos Beach

Image via Wikipedia... not the author

Natasha Henderson, Montreal

Several years ago I was very, very overweight. I won’t say the scale-tipping number here, but suffice to say I needed to buy some of the largest clothes available in the mainstream Plus-Size stores. I wore between a 22 and a 26 Plus-Size from Pennington’s (a Canadian chain). My jeans or skirts were a little smaller than my tops (the same holds true today) due to my broad shoulders and thicker upper arms. Being tall and broad-shouldered, I always felt that I could hold a little more weight. I was, however, holding a lot too much unhealthy extra of it… but I didn’t know what to do about it.

I did try some exercise, I did try cutting back on calories. Nothing worked, ever. I got bigger and bigger. The only thing that induced weight-loss in me was a move across the country from British Columbia to Quebec. I moved away from my car, away from my old habits in shopping and eating. Everything was new, and I was walking a lot each day. When I started to notice the weight leaving my body, I was encouraged to lose more to feel even better.

One of the things I have done to lose weight and then maintain it within a somewhat healthy realm, is to take up jogging. I took up jogging about two years ago, but my spurt of being a jogger lasted about one and a half years. When I managed to hurt my knees in a few different ways over a short period of time, I decided that jogging was probably not the best exercise for me anymore.

When I decided to try jogging, I made a plan. I would go out to the local park and run around. But… what to wear? Ok, I found a long-sleeved t-shirt and some yoga pants. I had running shoes. I thought, “this can’t be that hard. Plus it’s FREE.” I like free.

I went into the park and tried to move my legs quickly. I felt so very awkward, it was almost the most awkward I’ve felt my whole life. Don’t forget that I wore a size 26 blouse at one point. Also I had been an insanely unpopular teenager. I felt more awkward in that park trying to start jogging than either of those times. I felt like EVERYONE must be watching me, and what do I do to jog? How do I move my legs, and therefore my body, fast enough in this public space to both induce perspiration and to not draw attention to myself? I realised that I wasn’t ready for this. I sat down on a park-bench and watched the other joggers. What do you while you run? I’d spent the previous thirty-four years AVOIDING running or jogging, not seeking it out!

After some observation, I thought that I could be ready. I did a short little bit of jogging, in a small circuit, at varying speeds. So this is what it feels like to run. Then I hurried home, feeling completely self-conscious the entire way. I had a bath and felt pretty good. The next day, though, my legs were burning. Burning. I’d not used those muscles in that way for… probably not since I was in grade-school and was forced to play soccer.

Finding A Sport

Two days later I set my alarm clock for about 6am, and when I got up I went out the door and ran in the park. I felt like I was a light, free spirit. I had never felt so good before. I had dreamed of this feeling, back when I was heavier. It was such a contrast to the previous time that I’d tried jogging! It was like flying and bouncing at the same time. I think a large part of my new-found comfort was in not feeling watched… it was early enough that no-one was around the park.

In later weeks and months I felt so confident that I would go whenever the weather was nice and I had the time. Yes, I lost more weight, and my legs got stronger in the quadriceps (where I have a general weakness). I thought that this state of improvement could, possibly, last forever! I read up on running. I knew to stretch so much that it would seem like it was too much (but wasn’t), and to drink lots of water. I felt that I could become one of those “runner-types”. Skinny, wiry, lean…

When a knee-injury drove home the frailty of that particular body-part, I left jogging in the park. I am now focussed on dance, a good elliptical machine that allows for different strides, and am thinking about starting swimming. I know that these low-impact and no-impact forms of cardiovascular exercise are better for my well-being. Maybe one day in the future I’ll feel like a jogger again… but for now I am glad to have had that experience, and to have moved on.

Personal trainer showing a client how to exerc...

Image via Wikipedia

by Natasha Henderson, Montreal

The gym. It is a place to work out, a place to stretch the boundaries of how you feel and what your body can do. A place to work out problems, to work in peace, to work in silence or with loud, boisterous laughter. Depending on your gym (assuming you go to a gym, I understand that a lot of people do not) you might find it is a great place to meet people, to take on a class or two in something new, a place to build muscle and confidence.

It could be that you feel uncomfortable with all eyes staring at you. It could be that you don’t feel that you fit in with the hard-bodies that surround, or it might be because you are shy, and, well, some soft-bodies are busy eyeing up your fine physique. No matter what, a gym is one of those communal places where you need to find the right sort of place for you, at the right time in your life.

When I moved to Montreal, I found myself losing weight. It was delightful! The little furnished apartment I’d rented for a month upon moving here had a scale in the bathroom. Hot days, lots of walking, and new types of food all combined to melt the pounds away (as they say). The start of massive-weight-loss combined with that invigorating view of the lowering numbers on the bathroom scale inspired me to join a gym.

Lurt would like to get skinny

I’d been to the gym before… Always would do a light round of weight-machines, and about twenty minutes of cardio. This would occur about three times a week. Once I found that I didn’t have the money or inclination to go to the gym (back in those olden days), I invested in a workout tape. I’d do step aerobics. I liked it, I got sweaty, I didn’t lose weight but I felt good when I did it. I also would garden, mow my lawn.. I counted that as exercise. I needed to understand that simple existence doesn’t “count” as exercise. Especially when you drive everywhere and reward your workouts with onion rings. 

The first gym I joined in this city was a Semi-Budget style of gym. My inexpensive membership included one session with a trainer, who convinced me to use two weight-machines, do lots of sit-ups, and to continue with all the cardio work that I could. The weight continued to fall off my body, and I felt fabulous. The gym was always crawling with people, but they kept the washrooms pretty clean. The gym was mostly utilised by local working-class people such as myself. Yes, I had a job back in those days. A job in the Fashion Industry… yet another story for another day!

When I moved closer downtown a year later, I knew that I’d need to relocate my Gymming too. So I eventually bought myself a membership at a more Chi-Chi gym. I let the salesman at the (quiet! not busy!) front desk convince me to purchase several sessions with a personal trainer. Over several months I became an almost “hard-body”. Well, I became pretty well-formed, and in the best shape of my entire life. I did still have a weird neck/shoulder problem that could have been related to the stress of my (then) job, but… I felt like a million bucks. It was good.

When I left that stressful job to become a Full-Time Artist, I still used this gym and my trainer… until one day my membership ran out. Did I have several hundred dollars to renew? Uh, no. No I did not. So, I figured I’d do push-ups, sit-ups, and lunges at home. A friend recommended the 100 Push-Ups programme. It had worked for her; it didn’t work for me. I needed to get out of my home for exercise. I continued with jogging (there’s another story, How I Learned To Jog) and “brisk walking”. Needless to say, some of the pounds rejoined my body. I still felt good, but not as well-formed. I was ok with this.

You can see a lot of pretty leaves when you're out running around outside

When I found my feet, found my pace, and decided to rent a shared studio space, I was quite thrilled to discover that in the same building as my studio was a Budget-Level gym. Ok, half of the equipment was broken, it was full of mean-looking men who would eye you up and down thoroughly before returning to their training and sparring (most of them were welter-weight boxers) and the changeroom was something to escape from. It was, however, about $100 for a year. I was happy. I did some exercise in this place, but certainly not enough. I seemed to fall into a pattern of twice a week, about 40 minutes of cardio followed by stretching. When I moved studios to another one across town, I let this gym membership slide away.

After a few months of no exercise, and finding that my middle was becoming increasingly softer, I had the opportunity to go to the YMCA gym. My neighbours let me use their free guest passes for this, and it was great. So great it was, that I eventually sprung for a membership of my own. I enjoy taking the African Dances and Yoga classes, and look forward to other classes, too. I plan to buy a swimming cap and goggles, and will do some swimming. I’ve worked out in the weights rooms, utilising the knowledge that my old personal-trainer had passed on to me before. I jogged around the track a bit, until my knee told me NO MORE. So for now I stick with the dance, yoga, potential-swimming… Pilates, other dance, maybe even belly dance some day! I need to embrace my wiggly side.

I like the YMCA. I like that there is a huge range of classes, and I like that there are programmes for everyone. Drippy nose-and-fingered kids take swim lessons (I am avoiding swimming on the weekends and after school), working-class people bring their one pair of shorts and jiggle around (my folks!), and businessmen with text-messaging beeping gadgets play racquetball. Self-employed artists and health practitioners and dance teachers go to classes together. It’s a lot of fun. The other day I saw several older women dancing to”something” in a room, complete with coffee and muffins. They looked to be having a sociable and fun time. Who wouldn’t want to be around that???

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