Archives for posts with tag: YMCA
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

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

Iggy, my cat who likes to stare at things.

I have a cat whose name is Iggy. He likes to stare at the wall. I can relate to this; whenever I need to step away from the distractions of my life, I will stare at something. This can prove to be a little awkward when I’m out in public. In that case it is good to find somewhere to sit, then close my eyes for a minute. Iggy doesn’t have this problem, because he is an “inside-cat”.

You might wonder why I’m writing about this right now. My rationale is that I am in a Post-Yoga-Class state. This morning I had my first yoga class of 2011, after a month’s break. My mind is clear, my breath is easy and focussed, my spine and arms and legs and fingers and feet and… everything that makes up “me”… feels good. I had intended to write about the braided rug that I am slowly working on (it’s quite a long process, being the sole crafty or creative thing in my life that I would define as a “hobby”), and as my eyes were looking up from this computer screen towards that rug, I saw Iggy. Staring at the wall. This reminded me of the state of my mind during yoga class this morning and that’s that.

braided up and ready to go...

So, this rug is composed of pieces of unused, discarded t-shirt material that I rescued from the landfill during my employment in “the fashion industry”. I worked as a sample-cutter in the sewing room of a large corporation for about a year and a half. Each garment that was designed for this company required several pre-production samples in order to pass muster, before being manufactured in China. Hence there was a lot of waste, and this sewing-room went through a lot of fabric.

At one point I decided to tuck away scrap pieces of fabrics to take home, rather than throw into the trash. The company had a lip-service “Green” policy, in that they put up dozens of posters encouraging staff to use only one paper-towel when drying their hands in the washroom. I reasoned with myself that if I should get in trouble for taking trash away from the company, that I could plead “Logic” and win. I could point out the blatant irony of all those posters, asking that people save little pieces of paper, while in the meantime we tossed out what amounted to sheets of fabric every day. As it turned out, I didn’t need to plead anything because shortly thereafter I quit.

it began... and one day it shall end.

It didn’t take long for me to amass a big sack of scrap t-shirt material at home, and I began braiding pieces together. I would just cut about an inch-wide strip, tie similar-toned pieces together, and then braid. I made several meters of braided t-shirt material. This was the easy, fun, simple, relaxing part of the craft. The more difficult task was in sewing it all together. I basically just began to wind the braid around itself on a table, stitching as I went, on one (the ugly) side. I would tuck the tied ends to the ugly side, to make sure it looked good on the top side. Of course when I began, it grew very quickly so I felt motivated and satisfied. As the circumference of the circle expanded, though, it was slower work. This is why the project remains unfinished. At the moment it exists as a sort of “decoration” in my home rather than an actual rug.

branching out... something other than a circle to stave off boredom

I do like the idea of making something out of nothing, though, and I consider this rug to be a potential Family Heirloom. In a while perhaps I’ll share with you a photograph or two of myself doing yoga on this rug, or of my cat sitting on it and staring at the wall…

Natasha Henderson, Montreal

The very first YMCA to open in North America was located in Montreal!

We seem to be on the topic of “Move It” this week, so I did a little research into the  history of the Y!  By learning a little about the Y, I end up learning a bit about Montreal and Concordia University.

In 1851, the very first North American YMCA opened in Montreal.  It is located on rue des Récollets and rue Sainte-Hélène.

The man who founded the YMCA was Sir George Williams.  He was a man who was wild at one point and then became a devote Christian.  It seems to me that he really understood the meaning of a “good life.”  In 1844, while working as a draper in London during the Industrial Revolution, he organized workers to engage in healthy activities during their free-time.  One of the important activities that was encouraged by the YMCA was continuing education.

During this time, continuing education for workers was controversial because education was thought to be a privilege belonging to the elite.  In 1873, the YMCA in Montreal started offering night courses to labourers.  This was the beginning of Sir George Williams College which opened in 1926.  It was located in the 1911 YMCA building on Drummond Street. University level courses were offered starting in 1929.  Eventually Sir George Williams University merged with Loyola College to become Concordia University.

If you know anything more about this history, drop me a line in the comments.

Tammy Schmidt, Montreal

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

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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