Emotional Floods of Stretching, Zumba

Whether it’s because of my gluten-free experiment or some other element of the current equation, I am doing more self-care — exercise, meditation, conscious eating — than I have in several months. Since before my wedding and the madness that planning that wedding entailed. Meditation has long been a staple of my mental health, and it’s been a relief to get back to it.

I also did yoga for the first time in … oh … months, again. My legs have been aching, the ankles and calves tight with the knees suffering as a result. So I spent 20 minutes doing yoga positions to help, then another 10 doing some of my other favorite positions (that don’t put weight on the shoulder). I was surprised — and it’s not the first time I’ve been surprised by this — by how stretching seems to release pent-up emotions into the body.

Along with the stretching, the pain of it, the pushing through the tautness of muscles and the pain, there were surges of sadness, of emotions something like grief. Grief for what I’m not sure I’ll ever place. The frustration of these last months, or the pains of these last years, or some other thing entirely. But when I stretch, when I push through and hold, it relieves the tension. It uncages the emotions. It can be overwhelming, and there is a sweetness that remains after. A relief.

Yoga isn’t the only thing I’ve picked up again lately. After a great deal of brainstorming on which non-shoulder-based activities gave me a sense of joy, I concluded that a top contender is zumba. Zumba — or any dance, but zumba is especially meant for the sort of enthusiastic activity I’m talking about — is a celebration of the body. Which is why I don’t do it.

When I think to myself — or more often, when I feel at that sub-verbal level — that my body is not worth celebrating, is only worthy of hiding away, of shame, there are a few responses I can give myself. My most common of late feels healthy enough: I sit with the emotion, accept that I feel that way, and offer grief for this pain, try to be compassionate. But I don’t judge for or against the belief, don’t try to dissect it.

If I were to dissect it, I don’t know where I would begin. Is this body worthy of hiding away and shame? No. If I think of it as not my body, if I imagine a dear friend who has a similar body and advising them, it’s clear that I would not believe this. I would not want them to hide it away. And hell, I’ve even seen heavier people out doing very active things — even people heavier than me — and felt pride, happiness, admiration. Not disgust. Not loathing. And if a friend were to talk to me about a fear of judgment, I would give them the only response that feels sane: Some people will judge you. But they’re not the sort of people whose opinions matter.

But I must nevertheless acknowledge that, no matter how much I cognitively recognize that, I do not believe it. I believe that my weight makes me not just flawed or limited, but actively disgusting. That to move, to be active, is to spread this, to put that on display. I feel sickened to think of it. I do not believe this sensation is uncommon. It’s one of the great catch-22’s of fitness.

Anyway. Just two songs this morning. Three on Sunday morning. At work, while waiting for the hard-boiled eggs to finish cooking, locked in there with a bluetooth earbud in. I danced. I dance. I move and I celebrate my body and I love the ways I can move, focused in those instances not on the movements I can’t do or the things that slow me down but on the capabilities my body still has, the ways I can allow myself — if only briefly — to celebrate this gift that I have. This gift that I am. What pain and joy there is in being a body.

I am struggling, still, with these emotions. To give myself permission. To not feel I must hide away. To not struggle with shame and embarrassment. I don’t have answers, but I am starting — ever so slowly — to want to be happy. I was not able to start there. I had to start further back, with the desire to want to be happy. Or if I’m being honest, a step further back: With a recognition that it would be best, that it was sensible, that it was wise to proceed as if I had that desire to want to be happy. Sometimes that’s all I can manage. Sometimes, I think, that’s all any of us can manage.

I move forward where I can. I hide in the breakfast room, but I dance. I push through the tautness, the tightness of it all that has held my hold body in its grasp. I move through the point of pain and I hold, try to hold, for as long as I can. The unleashed emotions flood me, overwhelm my senses. But in there, there is a sweetness. A relief.

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