I took an unintended break from the blog world a couple of months ago. It began when I decided to immerse myself in my memoir again, which meant harnessing most of my creative energy into finishing that story. Just as I was about to jump back into blogging a good friend of mine reminded me that the female body, which is naturally attuned to the seasons, intuitively wants to rest and “go into the dark” this time of year even when our holiday year-end commitments dictate otherwise.
Hearing her words gave me the permission that I needed to give myself but didn’t know I’d been craving to STOP. I wasn’t aware of how much I’d been holding on to on my to-do list until that point—never mind that I’d already spent a huge chunk of the year writing my book and planning my wedding.
Oh right! It’s the time of year to go fallow! I went into semi-hibernating mode and loved every minute.
My body also underwent another kind of break last year after I started seeing a chiropractor. I’d been living with chronic neck and low back pain for 10 years and I just couldn’t take it anymore.
The doctor said that my injuries, from I don’t even remember what because they happened so long ago, were 100% fixable. All I had to do was keep seeing him for adjustments/physical therapy and stop working out for awhile to give my body time to heal.
“You mean for a week?” I asked him, hoping the answer would be closer to a few days.
“Probably longer than that,” he replied, noncommittally.
Little did I know this hiatus would last longer than five months. I hadn’t stopped exercising since I started doing Jane Fonda’s videos as a teenager.
A few years ago, there wouldn’t have been enough money you could pay me to stop working out unless I was physically unable. My worth was so tied to needing to weigh a specific number and looking a certain way, injuries and constant pain be damned. I would have been too terrified to let go of that rigorous control. God forbid I gain a pound or two or three.
And while I now understand, not just in my head but in my bones, that my value as a woman has nothing to do with the number on the scale, the size of my jeans or how “in shape” I am—what does that even mean, really?— I was surprised at how these old anxieties came rising to the surface when I stopped exercising.
My body is an object to be controlled and regulated. Who knows what my appetites might make me do otherwise.
Not being able to work out forced me to confront these messages that were still running the show and deal with them.
Rather than run amok when left to its own devices, my body did what it knows how to do and healed. (Finding out that the injuries were “100% fixable” got me wondering at how easy I’d been willing to tolerate constant pain for so long just because I’d gotten used to it.)
Yes, my body is softer and rounder because I haven’t been exercising. But that is what my body naturally looks and feels like when I don’t work out several times a week. And when I get back into an exercise routine it will naturally change shape to reflect whatever it is I decide to do or not do.
This time, I resolve to cultivate a more empowered relationship to fitness that doesn’t involve using work outs to beat my body into submission. I’d like to see what my body looks and feels like when I exercise from a place of desire rather than compulsion, pleasure instead of fear, self-love and not lack of it.
What about you?
Happy New Year to all!
Lately, I’ve been feeling disconnected from my own sensuality and needing a way to plug back into that part of myself. I figured what better way to re-spark that inner connection than to take a sensual movement class.
I didn’t tell my boyfriend that I was going because I needed this experience to be just for me. We’ve been living together for a few months now, and while I love him truly, madly, and deeply, I suspect that being with him is the reason that I’ve shut down my connection to my sensuality.
When women come together
Their bodies can reverberate
Creating a rich stew
Of yummy nourishment
I’m floating in a warm pool surrounded by women. Eyes are closed. Hands gently lap the water. Movements are languid, barely making ripples. One woman sits underwater, as if suspended. Above the surface, her breath rises, forming bubbles.
We look like we are hibernating, which in a way we are. This is, after all, a retreat.
It’s just us ladies, so no pressure to pull in one’s tummy to create the illusion of flatness. No need to wear oversize t-shirts to hide soft upper arms or round thighs or skinny hips. No need to walk sexy or look hot. Each of us is resting, saturating in what it feels like to fully inhabit our own skin. We are hiding nothing.
I saw a woman at the bank the other day. A bank teller. She had the same kind of liver spots on her face that my grandmother used to have, right on the side of her cheeks by her eyes. She had laugh lines like my grandmother did. The shape of her face was almost exactly like hers. So was the texture of her skin. I wondered if the woman’s skin, like my grandmother’s skin, is what old lady Filipina skin is supposed to look like… like a coconut but not so hard, smooth even though it looks rough.
Seeing this woman was like looking at grandmother again, as if she were standing in front of me even though it wasn’t really her. The teller also had drawn in eyebrows, except my grandmother never used black eyeliner to pencil in her eyebrows. She always used a brown pencil. (Although when my grandmother was in her seventies once, she drew one of her eyebrows in blue because she was in a hurry and didn’t notice. When my sister pointed it out hours later my grandmother laughed so hard that she had to put her hand over her mouth to keep the rest of her laughter from spilling out all over the floor.)
I wanted to touch this bank teller’s face. I wanted to press my face next to hers and inhale deep to see if she smelled like Pond’s cold cream and Johnson’s baby powder, just like my grandmother. If I could have stood in front of the teller window longer I would have looked at her hands to see if they were wrinkled in the same places where my grandmother’s fingers had been wrinkled too.
I used to look at my feet and see big… long..ugly. At least that’s what some of my relatives told me they saw when I was growing up . So I stopped taking care of my feet.
In college I walked around the Berkeley campus for four years in Nordstrom style loafers. I bought them in all the different colors: Blue. Black. Beige. And red. When I’d wear out a pair, I’d buy another pair. I’d take the BART across the bay to San Francisco on a Saturday.
Once, when I went home for summer vacation, my aunt looked down and said, “What have you done to your feet? They look like you’ve been plowing the rice fields [in the Philippines]!” Oops. Then again, how would she know?
If there was a Facebook option asking for my relationship status with my belly, I’d have to choose the one that says, “It’s complicated.” I belong to a family whose women usually grow up to have big, round, female stomachs, and while I love being part of this full-bellied tribe, I’ve often wished that our physical trademark could have been natural washboard abs.
My belly was round from the time I was a little girl. My mom says that’s how I was born to be. “You’re like me,” she told me when I was ten, patting her own bump of a “puson,” which is the Filipino word for abdomen.
I didn’t want a round belly. I wanted a flat one, like the bellies of the three detectives on the popular 1970s TV show Charlie’s Angels. Jill Munroe, played by Farrah Fawcett, had a stomach that was flat even when she wore a bathing suit—unlike me, whose tummy stuck out in my one-piece.
The only time my belly was flat was when I lay on my back. At night in bed, I would run my hand up and down my stomach, enjoying its horizontal shape and wishing it would stay that straight when I stood up.
I’ve had my eye on Jane Fonda since I was a girl. During the ’80s, she frequently showed up on the big screen, appearing in many of the movies I would go to see with my mother—9 to 5, On Golden Pond, The Electric Horseman—and even at home on the VCR, where, like in the Horseman flick, she starred with Robert Redford in an earlier film, Barefoot in the Park. (My mom liked Jane, but she was an even bigger fan of Robert’s.)
I was more into Michael J. Fox and Molly Ringwald back then, but Jane was definitely a part of the picture while I was growing up. I knew that Henry Fonda was her dad and Peter Fonda her brother, and that Bridget Fonda, Peter’s daughter, was her niece. She was a familiar figure.
I got to know Jane even more the summer after my high school freshman year. I was browsing through the discount sales shelf at the local bookstore when I saw her photograph on the cover of a large paperback book. She was in black tights and a red and black striped shirt, and she was seated on the ground with her legs raised in the air. In bold black letters over her were the words: Jane Fonda’s Workout Book.
I recently took part in a women’s subtle body movement class where the teacher had us explore our tongues. For nearly an hour more than a dozen women lay on yoga mats in the dark as they got to know this part of the female body.
As I lay on my back with my eyes closed, I stretched out my tongue, opening my mouth so there was room for its full extension, then curled it back in, rolling the surface of my tongue over and my top front teeth and then across the insides of my cheeks. I then curled the tip of my tongue backward so that it formed a ‘U’ over itself before lifting its tip just high enough to graze the roof of my mouth.
As I stuck my tongue out between my lips, letting it slither through my teeth, my neck to arch upward, my chin jutted out, and my shoulders reached back in a stretch. I discovered that extending my tongue in different directions—first up, then down, and later in circles and wavelike motions—created a ripple effect, as my back, my arms, hips, and legs began to extend themselves outward too. By the end of the exercise, my body felt all stretched out.
Up until now, I’d never given much thought to my tongue—only that it’s a necessary human organ for articulating words and tasting food. But having spent so much time getting to know this part of my body better, I was struck by a few aha’s that go beyond the tongue’s shape, texture, or the way it moves.
1) The tongue is a ripcord to inner space.
Stretch out the tongue in all directions and in different ways long enough and it’s like pulling the ripcord of a parachute. Only, what it opens up isn’t an expansion of space in the body. Extending and twisting and turning my tongue around caused the tension knots in my shoulders to dissolve, which led to my back relaxing, the tightness in my hips loosening, and my nervous system letting down.