This is a long blog post. I will show you what I am calling pre-ice cream fuel to whet your appetite:
fennel gazpacho: jersey tomatoes, sautéed fennel and onion, yellow bell pepper, zucchini, lemon, lime, olive oil, fresh parsley, sea salt, hot sauce and pepper to garnish cod sautéed in butter with garlic, thyme, parsley, and cherry tomatoes; ciabatta bread
When I was a senior in high school, I became part of a very special group of friends. Throughout middle and high school, I had always had a few close friends, but it wasn’t until this group of 13 of us came together early in our final year that I truly felt a part of a whole.
We were all good kids. We took honors classes. We got along with our parents. We made it home by our curfews [most of the time]. We baked cookies instead of doing shots. We related to each other, and for the first time, I felt the power of belonging.
Since then, I’ve experienced many communities: film production students, American expats abroad, musical theater nerds, overdressed NYU kids, health-minded foodies, to name a few. I think the knowledge that there are people out there who “get” you is one of the most comforting realizations you can have.
A few years ago, when I got into running, I remember how excited I felt to be part of a new community. I could run faster, I could run farther, I could set goals and I could achieve them, and there were others working towards the same thing. Then I got sidelined by the knee injury that wouldn’t go away , and this community I identified with was ripped from underneath me. For a while, I still read running blogs and magazines and articles; for a while I still thought about what I would do when I could get back on the pavement.
But when my injury persisted, I realized that pining for something I couldn’t have would never get me anywhere. So I stopped. I got into yoga . It felt sort of solitary, as yoga wasn’t embraced as strongly by the young, active, healthy living community, but I reminded myself that solitary was ok. Eventually, I was able to start running again once a week, and I made peace with that. I still loved exercising. I still loved sweating. It still made me feel awesome. I was just doing it in my own way.
As nice as I know it feels to belong to a community, I pride myself on my independence, and so I slowly became comfortable marching to my own exercise drum. I was Leslie who loved yoga, the same way I was Leslie who designed her own college major, who went abroad when everyone was getting full-time jobs after college, who sometimes purposely mismatched her clothes or showed up in dresses on occasions that never called for them.
When I talked about yoga with other active women, they would often say to me, “Oh, you’re so good. Oh, I should do that more.” Somehow, I always struggled to communicate that while I adore yoga, it was something that my body chose. I wasn’t sure my body could handle another form of movement.
Around April of this year, I began to test that theory by trying out new forms of exercise. I went hiking . I ran a little more and did it a little faster. I took barreclasses . I took otherfitnessclasses . I still did yoga, of course, but not as much. Suddenly, I re-discovered the fitness community as I tried out new-to-me workouts in which I could sweat and challenge myself just as much as I had when running. I was having fun, seeking out reviews of new studios and instructors, becoming familiar with women who were into the same thing, feeling that sense of being “hard core” the way I had back when I only ran. I started to feel that sense of belonging again, and I found that I had missed it.
Here and there, as I switched things up, I felt occasional twinges in my knees. I didn’t think much of them; that had always happened from time to time.
Then, 4 weeks ago, my knees started to severely ache, and the ache didn’t go away. I’m pretty sure I can trace it back to a class I took called 30/60/90 , which wiped the walls with me in the best way. However, it also involved a lot of jumping. Jumping is not good for people with knee problems.
Day after day, the pain persisted. Right then, I made the choice to stay off the pavement and out of the fitness studios, and I have gotten back onto my yoga mat. I’ve gone back to my solitary yogic path.
So I was in a yoga class on Monday night, and the instructor had us partner up with a neighbor to practice handstands at the wall. For a moment, I found myself caught up in the “fitness mentality,” thinking, “I just want to move! We only have 30 minutes left! Why is he spending so much time explaining this?” And then I was at the wall, and with a little push from my partner, I was in a handstand for the very first time.
My entire body was shaking, my arms were burning, and I felt like the strongest person in the universe. I came down, semi-gracefully. And then I did a handstand again.
This is why I love yoga. It has nothing to do with getting a good workout. It has everything to do with challenging myself to do things I never thought I could do.
As my friend Sofia reminded me while we cooked the dinner pictured above, injuries are not something with which you want to play around. There are far worse problems than not being able to exercise the way you want. Yes, there are times when I wish I could be like everybody else. It would be nice to be as active as I choose, and I am sure I would be motivated enough to achieve many fitness goals. As a young, active person devoted to living a healthy life, I would like to be able to share in the active side of that community.
But my body keeps telling me that I can’t. Since rededicating myself to my yoga practice four to five days a week, I have felt dramatic improvement in my knees. I’m due for a new pair of running shoes, and I will cautiously bring back that occasional run. Perhaps I’ll do other classes from time to time. But otherwise, for the foreseeable future, I’m a yoga girl.
Maybe that will always keep me on the edge of the fitness community. I’m ok with that. Diving into that handstand reminded me just how wonderful it can be to do my own thing.