Monkey Claws

March 10, 2011

Every community has its subcultures. Small groups within the larger local community or even within the larger world as a whole, if you want to go that big.
Portland, Ore., for instance, basks in a substantial microculture of rock climbers. As I hail from a town where, unless you are in the presence of an elite group of fitness enthusiasts, rock climbing is considered only a blithe diversion that simply involves jumping on a wall and reaching for the nearest rock. It can be done in jeans and tennis shoes with seemingly no athleticism required.
However, try that at a gym in Portland and I think the climbing gang would turn from friendly to taking you outside before you could ask what a harness was for.
My friend, Jill, aka the beginner climber, signed up for a climbing class one afternoon. I accompanied her, figuring I would skulk around the gym, looking tough, somehow entertaining myself for about 45 minutes I guesstimated. How long does it take to show someone how to put on a harness and hold a rope?
Apparently, very long.
The class was blocked out for 2 ½ hours.
On top of that, to find this open class in the first place, Jill had to call all of the gyms in Portland. Needless to say, they take their rock climbing very seriously.
And I didn’t see anyone in jeans.

We walked in to a room filled with not average people but stealth, monkey-like, chalk rubbing, forearm-ed, “live to climb” climbers.
Suddenly, my pride in owning a personal pair of climbing shoes no longer seemed any sort of bragging right, considering that everyone in the gym looked as if they’d battled numerous mountains and won; whereas, I won’t even consider stepping onto a real rock unless I see railings.
The climbing experiences I had up to this point added up to approximately four times and spread generously over a five year period, which warranted me about as much street cred as a cigarette to the fitness world.
The gym was complete with gymnastics rings and weight machines. These people weren’t here for the fun of it.
I forced myself to observe, putting aside the obvious creep vibe I felt sure I was giving off, and stood in the corner, watching the humans around me turn from regular, vertical forms into clinging, horizontal, crouching creatures. Hanging from ceilings, grappling with gravity.
I wondered if they were hiding secret monkey claws under their sleeves or gecko-like adhesive pads on their fingertips.
If this talent is for real, it won’t be long before these same people are scaling apartment walls, Spider-Man-esque. Working for good or for evil. The beginnings of a mutant community.
And I’m plannin’ to get on board.


Reasons for Resolution

January 4, 2011

As Kelly Clarkson’s poppy girl-power sass echoes through my bedroom, I curiously ponder what everyone is hoping for in 2011.

It might be hard to admit that life is really a continual cycle of repeated moments, but the truth remains. This fact becomes brashly apparent to me at the beginning of each year, more so than any other time.

The media continues to tout the secrets to reaching new weight loss goals, a new you for the new year, unforgettable celebrity faux-pas of the past, and, of course, the stand-by: trends to toss and forthcoming fads.

We are all forced, or maybe subconsciously persuaded, to evaluate our lives and look to the future. For everyone, this means something slightly different. Finances, no doubt, for many; a career change for others; health improvements; home improvements; world travel.

These are all admirable goals. I, for one, plan to become more organized, grow my writing career, eat better and improve my Spanish.

Goals keep us striving to advance, to improve ourselves. There is something very beautiful and unifying about that.

And, when we finally reach the top of that hill we are climbing, we find that the view is not only breathtaking but also inspiring, and then quickly set our sights on a new challenge. Because that sense of pride and personal achievement is not something that can be bought and shipped to our door. Maybe that’s why it feels so good.

And, admittedly, that’s anything but cookie cutter.

Following on the coattails of the very recent Glee/GQ uproar is criticism of Mike & Molly, a sitcom stuffed with fat jokes and flavored with lovable hi-jinks made funnier by the characters’ portliness.

I remember when fat jokes were offensive. Actually, I believe they still are–in the real world. But, conversely, on television, fat jokes are just another way to get a laugh, lighten a situation or make a character appear more likeable (think: Barney on How I Met Your Mother). Never mind what would happen in real life if one were to regularly chide his workmate about his fear of his partner falling on him and smothering him to death or if a mother constantly referenced her daughter’s big-bonedness as she feeds her more food. Because, by now, her fat daughter must have come to grips with her size.

I guess then that fat jokes are okay as long as they are told by the overweight people themselves or by their loved ones.

Perhaps we’re supposed to feel proud of these characters–that they’re able to accept and seemingly embrace their rotundness. With no outside appearance of embarrassment or shame. Just, maybe, an eating disorder, skewed body image and lifelong health problems. It’s okay, honey. Have another Twinkie.

We’re expected to rejoice in their triumph of self-esteem in a society that worships toothpick-sized models and ripped weight lifters.

But I personally cannot rejoice in a character’s ability to see past her weight. Her extra poundage is not something she was born with, like freckles, curly hair or big feet. Albeit, she may have a hereditary tendency toward obesity or heaviness, but she is not forced into obesity against her will, like a slave sold into slavery. No, obesity usually begins inchoately, maybe with an extra dessert every night, flowering over the years into a debilitating health issue that is either accepted or fought against on a daily basis.

Instead, overweight people are told that it’s okay. That there’s nothing wrong with how they look. (Which, there isn’t, if it weren’t killing them.) No judgments. Just acceptance. That is, unless you count the blogs about how fat people make skinny people feel nauseous. But as many people as there are like that in the world, there are plenty more who are eager to praise them for their ability to be extra-sized in a society of under-eaters.

One less person to fight them for the last size 8 dress.

Scanning my fitness center’s list of exercise classes, oftentimes, I feel as if I am living in a yoga world, begging for the occasional pilates scrap to be tossed my way.

The yoga craze has officially hit our nation. It’s been going on for a while, I know; although I have just recently begun seriously evaluating it.

While yoga has a long history, beginning many centuries ago, pilates is a youngster in comparison but with an equally active and loyal following.

Understandably then, my mind began reeling with wonderings of the positives, negatives and benefits of each fitness experience.

Turning to the Internet, I was not at want for answers–no shocker here, I am not the first one to wonder this.

Turns out, yoga and pilates are far from similar, a statement which goes quite contrary to common assumption. The two differ in focus, strategy and result.

Yoga is truly steeped in spirituality–with the aim of completely aligning mind, body and spirit. This is accomplished through controlled breathing to increase lung capacity and detoxify the body, posing to build strength and ward off illness and stress, and, depending on your class atmosphere, meditation and quiet to encourage serenity and inner calm.

The result is flexibility, inner balance and solitude with a minor muscle workout.

Alternately, pilates takes no spiritual undertones. Its focus is on strength and building a person’s core muscles, or powerhouse, through isolation exercises that work the abdominals and surrounding muscles.

The result is a stronger core, which brings about improved posture and body alignment. Improved flexibility is not the emphasis, but it will improve.

To sum up, pilates creates greater flexibility and improved posture, but its goal is core strength, with the absence of spirituality; yoga, on the other hand, uses spirituality to cultivate inner and outer balance and flexibility, with an underlying improvement in strength.

Thanks to this information, I now more clearly understand which route is better suited for me.

My next challenge: getting my gym to see it my way.