Life has got in the way of Ditch The Treadmill this year. Much of my exercise has involved chasing my own tail. And typing. To get back in the swing of things again I decided to do something that might help slow me down a bit.
I went to a Glow yoga class at Good Vibes Fitness in Covent Garden. Glow yoga is basically a vinyasa style class in a heated room. Not the oppressive heat of a Bikram class that makes you feel like a raisin left out on a rooftop. This is like being wrapped in blankets and cuddled. It’s a comforting heat in a dimly lit room with nice relaxing music. Exactly what was needed.
The class was great – top quality instruction that talks you through every pose and helps you to feel your way through it. It’s sweaty and challenging without being punishing.
Most importantly I learned a great technique that made me feel like the top of my head had come off and all my preoccupations and to do lists had floated out of it.
Here it is:
- Shut your eyes
- Take a deep breath (through your nose)
- As you breathe out, imagine the air leaving through the top of your head.
I know. Good isn’t it.
If you go, expect more of that sort of thing with a few handstands thrown in for good measure. Delightful.
There is a new fitness class on the block, and my prediction is that it’s going to be big. Its name is ‘Gliding‘ and it has all the right ingredients to be the next Zumba: it’s fun, it’s effective, you look like a fool while you do it, and a few Virgin Active gyms have started to offer classes.
The set up is simple: take two Glide discs, put them under the balls of your feet, then slide about as directed.
It is amazing what the addition of such a simple piece of equipment can add to a fitness class: from gliding squats, to a move I’m calling the ‘speed skater’, to plank pose with running legs – all the exercises you recognise from circuit training with an added twist that makes them feel more fluid and a bit harder. You can even use the discs to add a whole new level of evil to crunches.
There are testimonials all over the official website claiming impressive results: ‘Glide into your jeans in 10 days,’ they say (glide! get it?) Though, now I come to think about that, I would much prefer to be able to glide into the jeans of someone carrying a bit less thigh.
I went to a class at Clissold Leisure Centre in Stoke Newington, but I suspect there will be classes everywhere before long. Or you can do it in the privacy of your own home using a DVD, as long as you don’t mind the people/pets you live with pointing and laughing at you from the sofa.
I enjoyed it so much that even when they played the Black Eyed Peas ‘I gotta feeling’ I managed not to scream or commit any violence. I walked home a sweaty haired weirdo smiling at strangers and chuckling at things. Two days later I was still enjoying the ache of muscles that have been properly tested.
Go to it please – if it gets popular enough I’ll be able to find a regular class to attend.
No, not bellydancing whilst dangling at the end of a bungee rope.
I promised myself that this year I would do more dance classes and I would do them without whining, throwing a tantrum or grumbling at the back while failing to follow the routine.
So I made a start on that resolution by heading to Danceworks for an ‘extreme bellydance’ class. The ‘extreme’ made it sound like my kind of thing – less trying to make it look graceful, more sweating until you slip over.
When I heard at the start of the class that this actually meant belly dance-jazz fusion, I had a teeny tiny freak out that was not entirely in line with the promise I’d made myself at the start of 2013. I had a flashback to all the other times I’d lost it mid-class.
The problem is not dancing. I like dancing. I am frequently the first on the dance floor. I am just incapable of learning more than about 10 steps without eventually bashing into the oncoming class as I forget we’re supposed to be moving to the right.
But not this time!
For this time I was under the guidance of a very wise teacher. I mentioned as we waited outside that I have a problem remembering routines. She told me I must combine my kinesthetic memory (the movements my body remembers) with words that will help me remember what comes next. Her suggestion was that I said every move in my head as I did it. She also suggested that I try to watch myself in the mirror, not just watch her and follow what she did.
It bloody worked I tell you. It forced me to be more aware of what I was doing where normally I would just copy as I went along and each step would disappear from my head as soon as it was over.
It’s a bit like when you just follow a sat nav and don’t really take in the route for yourself. I don’t know why I’ve not worked this out before. Possibly because it’s quite hard to have any sort of breakthrough when your brain is telling you you’re doing it all wrong and you look like a lost hen trying to swim with the swans.
The class itself is great. It has the sexy hip swinging of bellydance, with some of the speed and grace of jazz. It makes you feel all Jessica Rabbit curves and sex appeal. I AM WOMAN DAMMIT, LOOK AT THESE HIPS.
Anyway, I’m very pleased with myself and can’t recommend a lesson with Charlotte highly enough. I am actually even looking forward to my next dance challenge.
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If you Google martial arts classes and then just kind of keep going down the rabbit hole, you may eventually happen upon a Lishi class in a boiler house in Stoke Newington on a Tuesday.
I did anyway.
Lishi is a Taoist martial art. Or at least I think it is. It’s nearly impossible to find a short definition of what it is. A little like Tai Chi and Kung Fu, borrowing elements from Chinese yoga, it is a system so multi layered that writing it up after just an hour in a class is a bit like standing on a ladder for 20 minutes and then coming down to tell everyone what it’s like to go into space. I shall tell you what I know.
We started with a warm up that’s similar to the type you’ll do in many martial arts classes – lots of joint rotations and so on. Every time I do this I find it enormously beneficial and make a resolution to do it every morning as soon as I get out of bed. Unfortunately I invariably get out of bed and grumble my way into the day and forget all about it.
After the warm up we did some movement and breathing exercises, followed by a demonstration of Chi to which the only reasonable response is: “What witchcraft is this?!”
For this we were split into pairs. One person tried to hold their arm straight while the other tried to force them to bend it at the elbow. Universally the one doing the bending prevailed. Then we were asked to repeat the exercise but this time the person keeping their arm straight was told to keep that arm and hand totally relaxed, and instead to focus on ‘sending’ their out-breath down the arm.
Something weird happened to all of us: no one managed to bend their partner’s straight, relaxed arm even though there was no effort or tension holding it straight. We were told this is Chi – or life force.
Now, the sceptical scientist in me tried to find lots of possible psychological and physiological explanations for this, but the sceptical scientist in me has a tendency to be a major buzz kill, so I decided instead to gawp and assume it was magic and just let it be awesome.
I left the class feeling relaxed and full of life all at the same time. I shall be going back as often as possible because I could do with some magic powers, and anyway it’s right next door to my flat.
My lifestyle is totally unnatural. I sit at a desk or meeting room table all day under strip lights, my body just a sort of pointless appendage to my brain. Then I try to remind it of its function by cycling home or going for a run or trying some new thing to write about here. Without being able to do those things lately I’ve been even more aware of my body as a sort of brain vehicle. Like the pope mobile only squishier.
So instead of my usual attempts to reengage the flesh, I decided to do it the old fashioned, natural way: put it to work. Put it to its original use. Shovel some donkey poo!
Stepney City Farm is a little oasis amidst the tall buildings and markets and busy roads of East London. It is a working farm, rural arts centre and community meeting place. They give children and adults a chance to meet farm animals, learn how to grow food and try out arts and crafts. It is my new favourite place in London.
I mucked out the donkeys and the cows, disinfected guineapig houses, fed pigs, herded ducks, walked donkeys, picked up chickens to shut them away for the night and so on. I got my boot licked by a cow while I was trying to catch a chicken.
It was good to do some physical work. I am not built for life at a desk. I took a wrong turn somewhere. I should be ruddy faced and covered in bits of hay.
Until such time as I find a full time way of being ruddy faced and covered in bits of hay, I shall be volunteering at the city farm every Saturday. Please pop down and say hello.
2012 taught me something very useful about how to approach new physical stuff. I water-skied and tried to climb ropes and walked a slackline. I roller-skated and trapezed and got confused on a rugby pitch. While I did all these things I noticed a recurring theme: I get cross when I can’t immediately do something, then keep repeating it over and over again until I get it right. Bad language is often involved. I realised I needed to readjust my attitude. I’ve always had a hunch that I’m getting it wrong.
Then I went slacklining with Harry Cloudfoot and he supplied me with a perfectly timed epiphany: play.
When you’re little you learn everything by playing. Toddlers don’t get frustrated because they can’t get the square brick through the round hole. They bash and reposition and try a few different things, fascinated and inquisitive, and then they succeed, looking very pleased with themselves, and move onto the next one. Children learn everything this way, as do cubs and puppies and foals and so forth. Playing is how they learn everything from hunting to complex social interaction.
Play is something you can do until you fall asleep on your face right there in the Lego pile. Effort and patience run out far sooner.
I remember trying to surf a few years ago, spending most of my time upside down with water up my nose. I struggled and cursed my huge, mattress-sized board out through the white water. When I caught a wave, I half got up and then got dunked the same way every time, dipping the tip of my board in the water and somersaulting along the seabed. I came up spluttering and furious and sand-grazed. Every time. Then I saw a kid having a lesson next to me, taking just as many dunkings but bouncing up and trotting back out there to do it all again with a big smile on his face.
So this year my resolution is to play more and try less, to approach new physical challenges with the open minded, inquisitive playfulness of a child with a new pogo stick.
- I am not disciplined enough to get up and spend 5 minutes in plank pose every morning to strengthen my core. Sod that. Instead I shall be learning to ride a unicycle.
- I am helping to train a young horse. I will be doing that in a way that feels like play to both of us, that nurtures her natural bounce and enthusiasm.
- I will go to dance classes, which I always dread. But this time I’ll cast off my stinky old attitude and channel my inner toddler.
I’ll let you know how it goes.
Happy New Year xxx