I have this very strong, distinct memory of my mother, probably not too long after she gave birth to my little brother, watching Jack LaLanne on TV and following along. I’m not sure why I was home (I was in second grade when my brother made the scene), but there I was with her, in our Totally 70s Den (braided rug, dark paneling, orange drapes on the sliding glass doors, Colonial furniture including a dark-wood-frame couch whose cushion fabric featured some sort of bird theme.) It was fun, kicking up my legs and touching my toes and doing whatever else LaLanne urged his viewers to do, but it was also cool to be doing it with my mom.
My mom’s always been big into exercise, and I (and my sister; our brother didn’t catch that gene, somehow) follow in her footsteps. Part of it is a complete inability to “diet,” so I have to work out vigorously to keep on an even keel with weight. But more important, working out is my drug of choice, my mood lifter, and having kids has made exercise absolutely non-negotiable. The algorithm is devastatingly simple: Mama hasn’t worked out in a couple of days? Stay away. Mom just got back from an invigorating run or a trip to the gym? Happiness ensues!
I’d of course love it if my sons followed in my sneaker-clad footsteps. (Having a dad who also values exercise — my husband was a personal trainer when I met him, and has an advanced degree in exercise science — should help). And I promote it. We have little races home from the bus stop, and trips to the playground sometimes involve running up and down the big(ish) hill in our local park, or jogging around the baseball diamond.
Last year, when I had to let my gym membership lapse (our bad financial year…) I switched to outdoor runs, and borrowed Pilates and yoga DVDs from the library for at-home workouts. Often, the boys were hanging around me (literally, sometimes) while I worked out. Like magic, before long, they’d join in.
A couple of observations: James, my little guy, is VERY flexible. (When he was a baby, not an infant any longer but not yet a full-fledged toddler, I used to literally fold him in half in my arms, toes to head, and call him Yoga Baby. He still likes it, if I can slow him down long enough to even get a grip on him). And Daniel? Like his dad, he’s game for activity, but he’s not, let’s say, super coordinated. (Also like his dad, that’s one of his particularly lovable charms).
This morning, I was in my regular Wednesday – Friday Pilates class at my gym, taught — inspiringly, in my opinion — by a late-middle-aged, 4’9”, not quite perfect instructor. Susie is a hoot, for sure. She also teaches yoga, and today, she was in the midst of reminding us to make every movement count. It’s easy, she said, when you’re accustomed to a move, to just sort of toss it out there, rather than really think about where you are, how your body is moving. Be mindful, she said. Think.
So I started thinking. A few weeks ago, the boys had gotten themselves into a typically crazed state, a combination of cabin fever (winter is so long, isn’t it?), and sibling rivalry. I was about to yell, or give someone a time out, or at least enforce a separate-room policy for a few minutes to give us all a measure of peace. But then I had an inspiration.
“Stop!” I said, as forcefully as I could. “Let’s do some yoga!”
And right there, in our former-dining-room, now-piano-room, right in front of the bay window facing the front of the house, the three of us practiced deep, cleansing breaths. We stretched our arms up high, then lowered our bodies, ragdoll-like, toward the floor. We did a little sun salutation, a little tree pose.
What the boys got from our yoga break? A diversion from their frenzy, and in the end a giggle. What I got? The measure of peace I was after, a reprieve from possibly yelling. And a sweet, precious, mindful moment, looking into the eyes of my sons as we all tried to balance on one foot without collapsing into laughter.
Sometimes you don’t have to run hard to get the boost you’re after from exercise. Surely, that’s something Jack LaLanne could still tell you. Or my mom.