Today’s post moves to the theme of…ahem…[***the word catches in her throat***] exercise.
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There’s a YouTube video I watched lately that has no end of charm. Called Never Leave the Playground, it’s about 72 year old Stephen Jepson, who is a retired professional potter, college arts professor and filmmaker. A self-proclaimed “mad scientist”, Stephen now spends all his time inventing and practicing exercises (you might think of them as games; I’m sure he does) to improve his balance, coordination, flexibility and strength—everything that he reckons will keep him healthy, active and vigorous. He does it because in part because he knows it’s good for him and is extending his life and expanding his wellbeing, but even more because he loves a challenge. In the video he’s exuberant, unstoppable, endearing and more than a little amazing. Don’t miss it.
All well and good, but imagine my shock at the idea of exercising all day. Surely that’s either rampant self-indulgence or severe masochism, and quite possibly both. It’s self-indulgence if he’s enjoying it and masochism if he’s not. But either way, can you picture yourself exercising all day?
I read for enjoyment—no exercise in that but that’s okay with me. I garden because the plants need attention—and I get exercise in the process, and that’s okay. But exercising for enjoyment? That’s something else altogether.
I’ve mostly seen physical exercise as a means to an end—painful, but less painful than the alternative. However, a decade of yoga has been teaching me that that’s not necessarily the case. I often spend an hour and a half in the Yoga Shed in a steady string of poses, working less dramatically on all the things Stephen does: flexibility, balance, coordination and strength—all the while enjoying myself completely. So under the influence of this yoga experience, plus that of my new idol Stephen, I’m starting to reconsider my position about exercise. What if I were to surrender completely to the amount of time it might take to be fit?
Well, there are going to have to be some changes in my day-to-day life, because I’m noticing a certain deterioration in my physical capability, particularly in my heart and lungs. Where not long ago I could pound up several flights of stairs without thinking twice, now I have to be careful not to engage in any conversation for a few moments after a single set of steps.
In doing my planning for the new year, I confronted the issue of health and well-being. It’s always been on my New year’s list; ever since I can remember I’ve been attentive to diet and to giving my body something of a workout. But there’s something about getting older that gives the whole issue an extra edge. Housemate Michael, who is a professional life coach and fitness aficionado, has challenged me to create a true project around it, so I’m doing that. The program involves swimming, stationary cycling, weights, leg strengthening and, thank heavens, yoga.
Michael’s support is an example of the kind of advantages I have in living in community. Another relates to the number of role models I have here at the house. Rick is one: every day he heads down to the beach for a minimum 40 minute beach walk. He strides out, wind, chill or heat wave no object, relishes every second, and gets his lungs and spirits filled. He’s about to start a weights program and I know that when he does that, he’ll be as assiduous about it as he always is when he takes on a fitness project.
Another role-model is Judy. This amazing woman (who in my view is a miracle person close on the heels of Stephen Jepson himself) had a double-hip replacement last April and therefore was forced to take a month or two off her daily routine of half-day hikes, kayaking, cycling and swimming (and sometimes I swear all four in one day). And then there’s Eve, who manages to combine extraordinary self-discipline with having great fun. At 7:29 every morning she’s heading over to the Yoga Shed where she does not only yoga, but regular workouts and weights. It’s not difficult to shadow her and get good work done in her wake.
Another great role model, though not so local, is my Canadian friend Paul. Paul tackles everything he does with well-informed zest, and, not only that, sees things through to the end. Even better, he can’t help sharing about the things that are working for him in such a way that you can’t help becoming interested. He talks about his latest passion—getting younger—in his recent blog post, which you really shouldn’t miss. Paul is a poster boy for looking better and being more dynamic as the years go by.
My support system here extends beyond good role-modelling. Rick not only looks after his own well-being, but also has limitless patience in inviting me to join in with him. Judy is helping me to improve my swimming so that I can enjoy it more. Eve, as she has for a decade now, provides magical yoga instruction and guidance. Our Shedders communal household is a good structure for me as I careen into this new territory.
For myself, I don’t guarantee there’ll be a Whole New Me a year or two from now. But I do notice a subtle revision in my attitude, of which this series of well-being posts is an indication. I’ll still be writing, singing, gardening, doing crosswords with Rick and heading out for coffee. But if I allow Stephen Jepson, my playground friend who wants “to help people live longer, healthier, richer lives”, to have any say in the matter, my exercise program will be improving my memory, giving me more excitement and reducing my chances of a bone-breaking fall. “Be bold in your life choices,” Stephen says. “It’s just going to make your life richer.” He’s a seriously good role-model.
So I’m thinking: just as younger people have the job of raising children and accumulating some wealth, mine now is staying fit so I can make my own contributions. What better excuse than that to play all day?