Over the years I have come to realize that no matter how thin I may want to be the real reason I exercise is to control my rage. It turns out all of those grapevines and crunches and half-assed attempts at camel pose had nothing to do with my desire to be physically healthy and everything to do with my need to be mentally healthy.
My love-hate affair with fitness began when I discovered aerobics while attending college in the early 1990’s. From the first grapevine I was hooked. My aerobic obsession eventually led me to the next level, step aerobics (aka aerobics on meth). In no time I was a full-blown junkie, attending class four to five times a week, the siren-call of Blue Swede’s Hooked on a Feeling my theme song.
When I first started aerobics I was fat. I was fat and I was angry about being fat. That anger, coupled with a desire to finally lose my virginity, kept me coming back. With each kick, each twist, each punch — I was visually beating the shit out of my fat. I remember thinking:
If I keep doing this — (grapevine, left) — then maybe I won’t be so fat — (knee up, kick!) — and then — (gasping for air; step, ball, change) — maybe someone will have sex with me.
Eventually I ooga-chaka’d my way from 220 pounds to 170 pounds, at long last achieving the kind of body that I assume helped to convince someone to sleep with me.
My love affair with aerobics faded after I left college. Our break-up sent me back to my first love food, a disastrous rebound that lasted for more than a decade until a friend suggested I try yoga. I was going through a rough patch at the time, the culmination of several years of bad choices, and the idea was yoga, with its breathing and focusing of the mind, would help to ground me. And it did.
It’s amazing how much you can focus your mind when you really set your mind to it.
Of course while my fellow classmates were namaste-ing their way to a zen happiness I could never hope to achieve even on a good day, I was imagining elaborately-staged and fully-scripted revenge scenarios featuring a revolving cast of all the people I hated.
Yes, you could make the argument that this was a) not the intended purpose of yoga b) a perversion of all its philosophies and c) not healthy. However, I would argue that it was better to feel my feelings rather than swallow my rage. Ultimately I’m just not made for a 24/7 world of fluffy unicorn kitties with rainbows shooting out their asses. And besides, it’s not like I would ever actually put these vengeful thoughts into action. I was simply allowing them to stop by for coffee and a quick chat before I returned to the business of living in the real world.
By the time we adopted our second son my lifestyle and schedule were no longer conducive to yoga. Unable to spare the two hours a day needed for the practice, I rebounded (again!) to the familiar and my mistresses of cake, donuts, ice cream, cereal and cookies. It wasn’t long before the every day circus of two small children had me once again questioning my sanity as I teetered on the edge of a spectacular mental collapse.
Fortunately I discovered Zumba (aerobics for the new millennium) and spinning. While Zumba is fun — like dancing at a wedding, but sober — spinning allowed me to work out all of my new, parent-related aggressions. When Chris loses his glasses or Elijah insists on watching the same episode of Paw Patrol for the twentieth time, I simply head to spin class and bike my way to a different, quieter life.
Over the years parenthood has muted my rage and as a result I spend less time focusing on revenge fantasies. Still, on those days when I feel like I just can’t make it to the top of the hill, I remember my yoga and I visualize what lies on the other side. I imagine myself cycling down the hill at top speed to the theme of Paw Patrol taking out a sea of passive-aggressive middle-aged women and Target vest-wearing lunatics.
My old friend, rage. She’s just the push I need.