I have always been fairly active. I have an older brother, I grew up with male cousins, and I could often be found trying to keep up with them whilst they went on their adventures, be that riding bikes or climbing trees, or trying to make it across the monkey bars.
The park that sat behind our house, Yellow Park, had all sorts of contraptions and activities that were like catnip to a bunch of ten-year-olds. Swings, a metal climbing frame, a see-saw. It had a large roundabout to which someone once tied an empty milk crate with a bit of old rope. Unfortunately, I only noticed this lethal edition when I wandered into its path and it took my legs from under me. I landed on my back with such force that I was completely winded and thought I was going to die right there on the tarmac, gasping for air and staring up at the sky. The centrepiece was a giant concrete hedgehog. This beast must have been at least 20 feet tall, or at least it seemed to be. It was ginormous. The ‘spikes’ were made of bricks that came jutting out of its body. It was meant to be used as a climbing frame and once you scaled the top you could see for what seemed like miles. To cushion the fall of anyone unlucky enough to lose their footing, was a ring of wood chippings which encircled the hedgehog. This ring was approximately three inches wide and was itself encircled by concrete. In short, if you fell from the top you would most likely crack your skull. Ah, the 90’s. Still, some of my fondest memories are of running about in that park.
At primary school, I adored our weekly swimming class. On Friday mornings we’d all march over to the local baths where we could race, earn our metre badges, and inexplicably have to retrieve a brick from the bottom of the pool. I liked team games and although I probably wasn’t the first choice when teams were being picked, I certainly wasn’t the last. British Bulldog, Tig and Tag, Basketball, Rounders. I loved it all. At secondary school, P.E provided some light relief. It wasn’t something that I took seriously, but I also wasn’t the type of girl who faked a note from her mum saying she had period pains and couldn’t take part. I’ve rarely laughed as hard or as long as some of those times during my P.E classes. I found it exhilarating and invigorating to get outside in the fresh air and run around for a bit. Exercise was fun and funny. It was a chance to burn away any tension and go wild.
Then I discovered weight-loss and it all changed. Exercise was no longer about what I could do or how it made me feel or even something to be enjoyed. It became punishment. In my mind exercise was an act of penance for the transgression of eating. This belief still nags at me. Unless a period of exercise is uncomfortable, unless I am pushing myself to exhaustion, unless I feel thoroughly spent by the end, there is a voice that crops up telling me that it is a waste of time.
I have tried all sorts of fitness, the more gruelling the better. I tried Crossfit, where I did so many heavy, repetitive squats that, once, I squatted down to get something off the floor at home, and my knees seized up completely. I had to be lifted back into a standing position like a toddler. I took part in an outdoor military boot camp come wind, rain or snow. Yes, really. I actually did a class in a foot of snow. I even did a class on the same day I’d had a very nasty fall down the stairs, - did I mention that I am severely clumsy? - complete with back injury and a lump on one buttock the shape and size of a Cadbury’s cream egg. While there were aspects of this exercise that I enjoyed, the camaraderie, the sense of accomplishment, the real purpose was to beast my body into submission. I am convinced that this is why my knees crackle like Rice Crispies and I make ‘oof’ noises whenever I sit down on the toilet. My back never got the chance to heal properly after my fall and I now suffer the painful consequences.
Is it any wonder that I tell myself that I hate exercise? That I am not built for it? That other people can announce with confidence that they are a runner or a lifter or a gym bod, but I cant? Whenever anyone asks me if I’m physically active, I apologetically mumble ‘yes, I do a bit of exercise’ rather than admit that in fact I have exercised regularly for years and I hate it. I am still not very good at it. I still can’t run a continuous mile and I still don’t have a ‘yoga body’.
And yet. If I look back at myself as a child, I did enjoy it. I loved moving my body, seeing how fast it could go, how high it could climb, how many goals I could score -not very fast, not very high, and not many goals, in case you’re wondering- so why can’t I feel like that again? Why can’t I focus on moving my body in a way that I do enjoy? A way that leaves me feeling revitalised rather than nauseous? A way that lifts my heart rate and my mood?
And I’ve realised, I can.