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Working on My Fitness


For a long while in college, I somehow managed to sustain a high level of physical fitness. Mental health was a whole other issue, but physically speaking, I had never been so fit in my life. I ate a low-fat, high-fiber vegetarian diet (for the most part) and got regular aerobic exercise. I was running the fastest I’d ever run, was doing the most push ups I’d ever done and was building up my endurance to a fine peak with Billy Blanks’ twice weekly Tae Bo classes. But for all the crunches I could do and regardless of how fast I could walk uphill, there were two things I physically could not (and still can’t) do – touch my toes and do a pull up. Touching my toes has been an unresolved New Year’s resolution of mine for the past 3-5 years, before I finally gave up on New Year’s resolutions entirely. It’s funny the amount of disbelief people express when I tell them I can’t touch my toes. When I told my sister, she said, “But they’re right there… See!” And then she bent over to show me that she could do it, so why couldn’t I? Doing a pull up was something I had been wanting to do since forever. If I had to give a more exact date for the start of this desire, I guess it might have started in the seventh grade during physical testing. It was the day we were all asked to do as many pull ups as we could. We were told that if we couldn’t do a pull up (and I thought Pshh, who couldn’t do at least one pull up?) we could do a flexed arm hang where we were supposed to hover with our chins just above the bar. When my turn came, I prepared to bust out 10 pull ups and rubbed my hands together like a gymnast applying chalk does before a routine. But to my horror, after grabbing hold of the bar, I found I could only pull myself half way up and try as I might, I couldn’t go any further. The P.E. teacher witnessed my struggling and suggested that I do the flexed arm hang, or in my opinion, the modified pull up alternative for weaklings, which is what I realized I was since I couldn’t do a real pull up either.
These two physical weaknesses are always in the back of my mind. I think that I should stretch more, that if only I stretched for that much longer I could touch my toes. And I think that if I just lost 75-85 pounds, I might then be able to do a real pull up. So when Denise asked if I wanted to join her for yoga yesterday, a recent memory at a family gathering came to mind and I eagerly said yes. You see, one afternoon, after we each ate 3 helpings of lunch (or something typical like that), Nathalie, Justin and I found ourselves crowded around a pull up bar in one of the cousin’s doorways. We went in a circle to see how many pull ups each of us could do. I couldn’t do any. I don’t remember if anyone else did either because all I remember is that Denise suddenly appeared, rolled up her sleeves, gripped the bar and did 3 pull ups out of thin air.
Shocked and utterly amazed at her impressive strength, we asked her how she was able to do them. She explained it, in complete seriousness, by saying “Because I’m hella buff.” (Which is a very funny thing to hear coming from possibly one of the smallest human beings alive (of a non-dwarf or non-midget stature)). Surprisingly, she attributed her hella buffness to yoga. Since then I have always been curious about this yoga she does–this workout/routine/series of stretches she does that promotes hella buffness–and knew I had to go see it for myself.
It should be noted that I’ve always been slightly skeptical of yoga. Mostly because when I think of it, I picture rich, shi-shi, fou-fou housewives–the ones you see shopping at Whole Foods at 2 in the afternoon wearing 4 carat rocks on their hands and sipping Starbucks nonfat lattes–as yoga’s primary clientele, and I’ve got to admit that is a little off-putting. But then yoga also brings to mind Birkenstocks, fresh vegetables, the ability to touch one’s toes and Zen and peace and tranquility. I think I was never really able to reconcile the two ideas before, but this time the idea of actually being able to touch my toes and do a pull up won over everything else. Denise does yoga with Sherry Han, which I learned is a common thing yoga-goers will ask other yoga-goers – “Who do you do yoga with?” Yoga-goers are faithful to their yoga teachers, and they don’t usually stray very far. On our walk to the studio, Denise prepped me on what the class would be like.
When we got there, I spread my mat out and sat with my bare legs stretched out in front of me in imitation of everyone else. Still watching my neighbors, I put my arms in the air, clasped my hands together and pointed my two index fingers to the ceiling.
Sherry made her way around the room to greet people. When she reached me she stared in the direction of my ankles and feet. I followed her gaze and saw what she saw–swollen, stuffed ankles and feet, like sausages that had been soaking in brine. She grabbed at my ankles and touched the tops of my feet.”Too much salt. You need to stop eating so much salt,” she said. I nodded. I was a little embarrassed but also pleased. Denise hadn’t told me about the free nutritional consultation I’d get.
I started picking up on the poses by watching the people in front of me. At one point we were in a pose on the floor with our heads turned to the side. As I held the pose, I noticed my neighbor looking at me so we smiled at each other and then we smiled some more. Just when I wondered how much longer we were going to need to hold this for because it was getting slightly awkward staring at each other, I realized that everyone was turned the way she was and I was the one with my head turned the wrong direction.
By the end of class, I had rid myself of my earlier kankles. I must have sweated out all my excess salt in those 1.5 hours. In fact, I have never sweat so much from posing or stretching in my life. Immediately afterward and into the next day, I felt a very distinct and different kind of soreness in my muscles, as if they were looser and tension-free, like all my body parts could now move as they were meant to.
I could definitely see how Denise could get hella buff from yoga. Maybe yoga could help me get hella buff. Or even just touch my toes.

Last modified: January 10, 2019