As a busy mom, I have to make time for exercise and, this past year, there's been a huge gap between my intentions and reality. I wanted to run. I wanted to take lots of walks. I wanted to lift weights and do push-ups at home. But, more often than not, these to-dos never made it to the top of the list.
Over the holidays, I took a casual approach to getting in shape. I wanted stress relief to be an integral part of my exercise routine so I focused on options that were as much about quieting my mind as working up a sweat. I decided to try running again. I also sampled a ballet and a yoga class in town. Here's a look at what I learned about each:
Getting Back to Running
I discovered running as a college student in New Orleans, jogging down the streetcar tracks near my house and under canopies of live oaks in historic Audubon Park. To me, setting is everything. And, if I'm going to run, it's going to be outside, where I have something to look at besides my own feet.
The beauty of Plymouth is that there are plenty of neighborhoods and flat stretches of sidewalk to make running a pleasure. But, I've never run on snowy streets so I wasn't quite sure how much I'd enjoy dodging patches of ice. This week, I gave it a shot. Despite the 24-degree temperature, I bundled up and headed outside with my hiking shoes on for traction. I printed out a three-mile route on mapmyrun.com that led from my house, through downtown Plymouth, past Hough Park, and back home. I also found several running and walking routes at www.walkrunjog.net. Try this link for more ideas: http://bit.ly/gpqu6D
There's even a walking route with a sweet reward; it ends at the Grand Traverse Pie Company. Running in the cold wasn't nearly as uncomfortable as I expected and breathing in the icy air was a refreshing break from the sleepy warmth of being indoors. However, I recommend sticking to the sunny side of the street, where there's less ice to navigate. And, if you don't live in a neighborhood with sidewalks, park downtown and print out a runner-friendly route.
New to Yoga
I've dabbled in yoga but I've never actually taken a full-fledged class so when I decided to drop in for Slow Flow at the Plymouth Yoga Room, I was a little nervous. I tend to get lightheaded and impatient when I exercise and, while I know yoga is supposed to serve as stress relief, I wasn't convinced it would work for me. I wasn't even sure if the studio was open during the holidays. But, owner Sheri Rieli says demand is even higher this time of year. She told me 39 people showed up for the 9:45 a.m. Christmas Eve class.
"People want their yoga. It's more than physical. It becomes a way of life for people," says Rieli.
When I walked in the studio, I was surprised at how warm it was. The temperature, in the high 70s, is designed to warm up cold muscles. And, the lights were way down low. There were about a dozen students in the class, mostly women but a few men, too. It was too dark to see anyone's face, though. This was unlike other classes I've taken, where you can't help but watch what other people are doing. Instead, this was an inward experience and a welcome change.
I was pleased that I picked up the moves as easily as I did and I didn't experience any lightheadedness, despite the warmth of the room and my relative lack of balance. Rieli gave detailed, easy to understand instructions along the way and, even if I wasn't doing every posture exactly right, it didn't matter. I was able to clear my mind of distractions and focus on my breathing. I get yoga now and I'll likely be back for more.
A Ballerina Again
Many women I know have taken dance classes as a child but wouldn't dream of getting back into a leotard and tights these days. And, as I considered taking a ballet class at Metro Dance Company, the most stressful part was figuring out what to wear. I dug out my old ballet shoes, bought a pair of tights and wore them with a pair of shorts, a running shirt and a hooded sweatshirt. When I walked into the class, the memories were right there with me -- the barre work, the classical music and the melting away of my slouch. It was refreshing to use a part of my brain I haven't in a while, the part that has to remember dance combinations and then actually command my feet to do them with an audience of classmates.
While at first it was intimidating, there was a small thrill in it and a sense of accomplishment. It also helped that my teacher, Dana Cochren, could make me, and the half a dozen other ladies in the room, laugh at ourselves and our quest for perfection. Cochren has been teaching adult ballet and pointe for about eight years. She says her students fall into two categories: women who danced as girls and miss it and women who've never danced but have always wanted to learn.
Her students come from as far away as Novi and Dearborn, coveting the time to themselves. "Most of the women are mothers. It's just an hour but it's an hour that's just me time," says Cochren. As moms, many of us hold our bodies tightly, lifting kids up on our hips, reaching behind back seats for toys and racing up and down stairs. But, rarely is there time to move freely and beautifully and experience the simple joy of poise. Ballet is the perfect mix of discipline, exercise and art. And, there's no judgment. That's the best part of being a grown-up in dance class. You can twirl across the floor without worrying who's watching.
So, now that my exercise menu is complete, I feel good about my choices. There are other options in town: zumba dance classes, pilates and gym programs but, for me, these are my top three. I can drop in for yoga when I need some meditative stretching and ballet when I need to feel like a girl, instead of just a mom. And, it's good to know I can still pound the pavement, even when there's snow on the ground. 2011 is going to be the year to let go and get fit and remembering how fun exercise can be makes it a lot easier.