Exercise is one of those horrid things people advertise to anyone hinting at depression, anxiety, nerves, unhappiness, or probably any other kind of malaise. But you know what? Do it. Live in your body, and make it do something outside of the ordinary: move, breathe, stretch. If you hate it, if it makes no difference, stop. If you like it, do whatever you can to continue, and practice it. If you become addicted, hopefully it’s in a healthy way. There's a chance you'll become stronger or more graceful, but I don't think that's really the point.
Here’s what I know: the simple practice of exercising keeps me from winding myself into the boa constrictor of my mind, it keeps me from falling asleep at the television every time my infant goes for a nap or agrees to be strapped into her rocker. It recalls me back the animal simplicity of my weird self. So without further ado, I present to you my favorite exercises.
Preferably performed outside, ideally while it’s still light outside, and without great concern for time or distance.
Running may hurt the knees, ankles, or feet; perhaps it will damage the skin*; and if one lives in a very dirty city it could impair the lungs, too. Regardless of potential long term effects (others of which may be positive!) there is just no way to start running without some physical unpleasantness. It is tiring, it leaves almost everyone breathless, and at first it causes inexplicably sharp pains in the shins. It is the cause of lots of smelly, damp clothing, especially in the winter. It might require the purchase of ugly supportive shoes.**
Running is also beautiful, a treasure to cherish if it works for you. It pulls the sweat and sadness right out of me, if not straight away then by the end of the shower I need after the jog. Even just twenty minutes of swift rhythmic plodding; even if I’m tired before I begin; even when I don’t want to go out into the cold or the damp: I am lucky to have legs that carry me, to have the time to be alone with my thoughts, to be alive at this time and place. And no, I am not really an optimistic person.
Or, forget running and walk.
Preferably performed on a smooth, non-carpeted surface when your downstairs neighbors are out (or at least, when they are not trying to go to sleep) in leggings, a sweatshirt, and the cheapest ballet slippers you can find.
A couple of years ago (promise, this isn’t a joke) I was doing my Artists’s Way, and there's a requirement: you have to take yourself on an “artist date” once a week. Like, go to the craft store for stickers, or to the museum, or hang out alone making something - without the pressure of an objective or concern. So that winter was my personal winder of blizzards and, stuck at home, I decided to warm up … by dancing. I took a ballet class online, and I was horribly bad at it. As it turns out, ballet is too hard for someone uncoordinated and graceless as me. Think falling down, literally.
Pineapple Dance Studios: Where careers are made, dreams are broken, bitching is an Olympic sport and everyone is fabulous!***
However. Thank goodness for a fad that coincided with my yearning-to-dance: ballet as repetitive simple exercise, as taught to Natalie Portman for her role in Black Swan, but probably 100000% easier. It’s still mind-bogglingly challenging especially given the poise and never-out-of-breathlessness of Mary Helen Bowers, instructor to the stars (Alexa Chung) and, of course, to me. Her videos suggest utterly unrealistic results. (Namely, that the regular practitioner might one day look like MHB herself, a human Barbie at least in the leg department.) And they made me pant even when a five mile run seemed like an important way to spend 7:00-7:45am.
A couple of years later I look decidedly unlike a ballerina. But I did follow MHB’s Ballet Beautiful pregnancy regime and, perhaps related, had a physically easy pregnancy, delivery, and recovery from birth. And what would I do without her postnatal videos, available in a bundle through her website, which may have saved me from feeling even weirder about my strange new body? (Look, I can still move and sweat and get sore! Look, MHB looks almost kind of like a thin normal person after she has a baby!)
*I mean, through exposure to ~the elements~. Also I just “read” a horrendous slideshow that enumerated other habits that age you prematurely: drinking from a straw, sleeping on your stomach, warmth, computers, and a fat-free diet… I mean, what’s the point.
**We shall not discuss the even-worse options here, which include but are not limited to toe finger shoes and no shoes.
***If we'd heard the tag line I'm pretty sure we never would have gone. Also, our beginner class was exclusively populated with slightly injured semi professionals and gracefully aging grandes dames who had obviously been principals at the Royal Ballet.