I’ve always been an athlete. At the ripe old age of 5, my parents starting me in competitive swimming and thus began my lifelong journey of physical activity. I swam year round for 10 years and then did high school swimming to finish out that sport. From there, I’ve always been active. I worked out in college when time allowed but really didn’t make it a priority until after my 3rd child was born. I started running and quickly grew to love it! I ran local events and often had my name in the paper as a top finisher in my age group. Seven 1/2 marathons later and one full marathon later, I had to hang up my running shoes. After years of wear and tear, I developed bursitis and tendonitis in several joints. I am still able to run, just not farther than a couple of miles.
Last fall, I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. I knew my joint pain had shifted to include pain and swelling in my hands, wrists, feet and ankles but I was in complete denial about having an autoimmune disease. After canceling several appointments with a specialist, I finally faced the music. It changed my life. But the area it devastated the most was my workout routine. Long gone were the high intensity workouts that burned 800-1000 calories an hour. Long gone were the weight classes that pushed me to my limits with heavy weights. Long gone was that “high” from knowing I ran a long way or pushed myself harder than I did the day before.
I quickly discovered how mental health was directly linked to physical activity. I’ve always known they were linked but I didn’t take into account the devastating feeling when you can’t do something you love. I found myself sad, tired, restless and irritable. I didn’t let it show around others, but I found myself dangling in the breeze not knowing how to land. I wasn’t sure how to get back to where I once was mentally.
After gaining weight and losing muscle tone, I decided I wasn’t getting any younger and that my medical setbacks weren’t going away. So, I did what all my coaches told me to do…
My husband and I joined a new gym where all types of classes were offered. There were those high intensity classes that I used to get that “high” feeling from but there were also classes that were foreign to me. Those classes that I swore I would never do because I didn’t “sweat enough” or because I thought they would be “too boring.”
Those classes were Yoga and Barre.
My first Yoga class taught me one surprising thing…check your ego at the door!” Holy cow! I walked out of there, on wobbly legs, thinking, “How could those movements be so hard?!” And “What are these muscles that I’ve never felt before?!” How can “listening to your body” and “breathing a certain way” be so difficult?! I was sweating. I was exhausted. And I was never bored.
Yoga challenged me…and I LOVED IT!
The next step was trying barre. This name of this class scared me a bit because I’m not a ballerina. I’m not built like one or graceful like one. But I heard that this class was for toning but didn’t involve high impact movements. I learned that Barre is enough different than Yoga that doing both has some great benefits and that they actually complement each other.
After my first Barre class, I walked away, on wobbly legs again, knowing I would be making this class a part of my weekly routine. The strength training in this class was different than the weight classes I used to do. I remember after one set of leg movements, we stopped and not only did my legs feel it, but my core had been worked without me knowing it. I thought “this sneaky training is what I need!”
After several months, I noticed that my range of motion was vastly improved. I had more muscle tone. My posture was better. I was more relaxed, and I felt challenged.
But the biggest change was my attitude. Because I was being challenged in those classes, I felt a sense of accomplishment. I found that I looked forward to learning a new movement, a new breathing technique, a new stretch that made me feel better. I found that when I left each class, I felt that “high” again. I felt like I was more centered and happy with what I accomplished instead of focusing on what I could no longer do.
So, before you look past these two classes, think about what you can accomplish in them…
…more than you know!
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