Working Out: Confessions of an Exercise Slacker

working outI have a strange relationship to exercise—I teach it and I really wish I didn’t have to do it. I might be a yoga teacher but that doesn’t mean I exercise a lot. I have to force myself into working out—my DNA does not seem to be hard-wired for physical activity. My machine is designed for reading, listening, and thinking; ingesting and processing information above all else.

I don’t exactly hate exercising. When I am in the groove sweating consistently I love it. It is just that I’m nuts and find it very easy to avoid doing things that are good for me.

Every day I wake up and do a few light stretches almost immediately. And then the internal conversation begins. “I should go for a run.” If I do run it is when I walk my dog in the morning. Good for him, good for me, right? For whatever reason and there is no good one, I usually opt to walk the dog to the local coffee shop. Upon returning home I always look at my friendly yoga mat rolled up in the corner and say, “I should do some sun salutes or the ashtanga warmup”, and again, nine times out of ten I feel an unreturned email or a blog post that could surely wait—I don’t avoid exercise for a lack of time— calling from my office. It is sad how coffee and the computer trumps exercise so easily and so often.

This isn’t about inactivity. I am not capable of doing nothing. I remember a conversation with a European friend a long time ago where she asked me if I couldn’t just sit in front of a window with a cup of tea and stare at the trees.

Not a chance, I replied. So my avoidance of exercise is something deeper than simple laziness.

My childhood did not prepare me for a life of athletic pursuit. My mother did make me do yoga when I was very young and I think that’s it why it resonated with me when I tried it as an adult. But, the only exercise I ever saw my father do was to lift a cigarette to his lips—which he did repeatedly and skillfully.

I was an active kid playing a lot of pick up sports at which I was neither good nor bad. I played little league baseball for a while and was just terrible. I had older males in my world but no one saw fit to teach me anything. The only time I got a hit in all the years I played little league was when, for one game, John Wytowsky coached me from behind the backstop on every pitch and I made contact and actually hit a single and a fly out to centerfield.

I have hazy memories of being implored to climb up the ropes in gym class. I stared at the long knotted length and fantasized about being able to shimmy up like an acrobat, or like Adam Frostbaum, who flew up the ropes without using his legs. It seemed like he defied gravity and when I raised my arms and gripped the rope tight to hoist me up nothing happened.

While I loved to play and fantasized, like most little kids who love sports, of hitting the winning home run or catching the winning touchdown I had very little positive reinforcement when it came to my ability to play sports. No one taught me to use my head.

Once as an adult, I had to the opportunity to play in a softball game for the Broadway Show League. I hadn’t played in forever and actually acquitted myself decently. Where I couldn’t seem to apply my intellect to playing as a child, when I played that afternoon as an adult, I had fleeting thoughts that I could have been a less pathetic child athlete.

At thirteen my life changed and I found other pursuits that replaced sports and exercise for about fifteen years. I don’t think I did anything physical between thirteen and twenty-eight.

From then on I have had my moments of doing. When I find an activity that I like I am capable of obsessing on it for a time. I got into running around the same time as that softball game while some friends and I were putting on plays. The work was so all-encompassing that I barely ate, was skinnier than any time other than when I did ashtanga, and I started running three miles a day for more than a year until my knees began to hurt (a precursor of future trouble).

I ran at a local track with different dogs that I had at the time and just loved the feeling. I also remember thinking that I felt great— I was working out as I had always wanted to—and I would never stop.

I eventually stopped because of my knees.

Sometime later I took up roller blading which I attacked with a vengeance. I have always found it easy to do things for functional purposes. I would bike or blade to work and get my exercise that way. By the end of my roller blading phase I could easily skate from Brooklyn to New Jersey.

All of which set me up for ashtanga yoga which I began in 1995. For two and a half years I biked into Manhattan from Brooklyn and practiced hardcore yoga for ninety minutes, six times a week. My knees trouble returned and they eventually gave out leading to three surgeries and the end of my dalliance with ashtanga.

After that I began to learn about anatomy and core strength. I got very strong but I also got married and had two kids and slowly lost touch with a daily yoga practice. I didn’t stop completely but any thought of consistency went out the window.  It isn’t that I didn’t have time or was too busy. I didn’t make the time and chose to do other things. Like read and eat. I am very good at reading and eating.

I used to be pretty good about biking wherever I needed to go. Functional exercise is a great thing for the slack. But two years ago I came down with Bell’s Palsy which affected my eyes and no longer made biking and blading pleasant as my left eye tears uncontrollably when I move through the wind. I have definitely gone a bit soft with no wheels in my life.

To return to the theme—I didn’t have to stop biking but the opportunity arose I and took it. I could have purchased goggles and kept on biking but instead my bike gathers dust in the basement. It is a mental thing.

The reason I am sharing my whole exercise history is to let people in on my struggle that I know is shared by others. But the thing of it is—we need to exercise. We need to have a great deal of core tone to get into our eighties and nineties in fighting shape. Life is a conundrum.

So I am here I am at forty-nine fighting the urge to do nothing on a daily basis. I marvel at my students and clients who wake up in the morning and want to run out the door to pursue some sport or activity. I’m not there at the moment and I try not to beat myself up too much as I wait for the next moment to arrive.


The Pectoral Muscles in Plank and Forearm Plank
Sunday Morning Music: Paul Weller