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While the rest of the fitness blogging world is out there worshiping the almighty CrossFit (“Forging Elite Fitness!”), I’m going to be a black sheep and sing a little praise for my weekly $3-a-pop, 45-minute circuit training class.

I found out about the class through a little trifold community education brochure delivered in our neighborhood. Along with circuit training, one can also sign up for Living Wills 101, crocheting, and boater safety education. A yoga class takes place in the high school gymnasium; my class takes places in the cafeteria of a local elementary school (where the smell of tater tots somehow always eclipses our body odor).

I belong to a gym, but its group classes either don’t jive with my work schedule or just don’t pique my interest. So when I found out I could take an 8-week circuit training class once per week for a grand total of $24, I did not hesitate to send in the check.

I just completed the sixth week of the program, and I come home from each session with an affirmatory “I love this class!”

Each session includes a quick warm-up/cool-down, with the circuits sandwiched in-between. The instructor demonstrates three exercises, most of which include a handweight(s) or lightweight medicine ball.

The majority of the moves are compound exercises–so we’re working both our upper and lower body simultaneously and getting quite the cardio workout–or they’re core-focused moves, such as planks or crunches while holding a weight. We do each of the three exercises for about a minute, take a super-quick breather, and then repeat them again–and then again–for a total of three sets. We learn three different routines in each class, for a total of nine different exercises.

I usually break a satisfactory sweat by the end but know I could take it up a notch. The problem is that we have to bring our own weights to class, and I really can’t carry more than the 16 pounds I already haul into the cafeteria. If I were start toting my 10- or 12-pound weights, I’d need a baby stroller to transport them.

Still, I ❤ circuit training and was super-happy to learn this week that the instructor is offering an extension period in April and May. Here are the top five reasons I’ll be there:

1. Everything is super-quick. I have a 5-minute commute each way, and the class itself is 45 minutes. BOOM. The class is packed with local working moms, because it’s the perfect time allotment when you have little ones at home.

2. No crap, no chit-chit. One of my biggest fears of going to my gym is being accosted by The Chatty Guy or being forced to listen to the high school jocks curse up a storm while grunting on the weight floor. In my circuit training class, I walk into the cafeteria, set up, work out, and leave. Another class begins immediately after ours, and there is no time for talky talky. And since the class is so fast-paced, there is no room for chatter. I HATE CHATTER DURING CLASSES.

3. Everything is modifiable. The instructor always makes a point to demonstrate the alternative ways of completing the exercise. Use 3-pound dumbbells, 5 pounds. Don’t use the weights at all. Lift your leg to the front if you can’t lift it to the side (<— my hip appreciates this one). Do side plank on your knee or up on your toes. Can’t do the complete Turkish get-up? Just do the first half. Need to keep it low impact? Squat instead of jump. Bottom line: The teacher gives us the opportunity to modify the exercise until its do-able, but pushes us to still DO it. As someone with a chronic injury, this approach is what draws me so much to the teacher/class!

4. I can do everything I learn at home. After each class, I scribble down all of the nine exercises we did so I can do the same routine at home at some other point during the week. (The class is offered twice a week, but I only signed up for the Wednesday class.) Having these routines on hand is also important for the times the instructor is on vacation for two weeks and I don’t want to fall behind on my circuit training!

5. Again, it doesn’t break the bank. 8 classes for $24. BOOM. A great workout for less than the cost of a latte.

Have you recently discovered any cost-effective or time-saving fitness programs?

Several weeks ago I was contacted by a rep from Beachbody, asking if I’d be interested in voluntarily browsing through some of the company’s in-development products. I really dragged my feet on this one, mostly because, personally, I have no interest in the company’s existing catalog.

There’s no doubt that Beachbody’s products (e.g., P90X, Insanity) are wildly popular and effective, but for someone like me who is trying hard to explore more of the “mind” and “spirit” elements of the mind-body-spirit trifecta (aaaaand who has a torn hip labrum), the notion of groaning and grunting my way through something titled “The Asylum” seemed to fall just slightly beyond my boundaries of comfort.

(No offense to Beachbody sensation Shaun T., a fellow Rowan University alum. I’ll admit it’s kinda cool to see someone you danced with in college rise to fitness stardom.)

However, of the three Beachbody programs in the pipeline that came into my inbox, there was one that stood out for me:

Tai Cheng

I clicked the link cautiously, afraid that what I hoped was going to be somehow related to tai chi would actually end up being some sweaty, teeth-grinding hybrid of my beloved low-impact martial art and, say, the muscle-ripping CrossFit.

I was pleasantly surprised. One of the first quotes on the website’s accompanying video, from who I am assuming is Beachbody CEO Carl Daikeler, is “What about training that’s NOT about extreme?”

Not extreme? You mean no veins pulsing through my forehead, no teeth gnashing? My interest was piqued.

Daikeler went on to tell an anecdote about his father, who had hip replacement surgery. “I had nothing in our catalog I could provide to him,” he confessed. With that concern in mind, Daikeler aimed to develop a program that both seasoned athletes and once-sedentary individuals or those recovering from injury could benefit from, a program using one of the oldest fitness regimens in the world: tai chi.

As Daikeler spoke, Tai Cheng’s namesake/creator Dr. Mark Cheng–a martial arts master trainer, traditional Chinese medicine practitioner, and physical therapy-based corrective exercise expert–demonstrated the Yang style of tai chi in the foreground. His movement was utterly hypnotic and dance-like. My first reaction was, “I wanna move like him, sign me up now!” I know I’m only in the sixth week of my own weekly tai chi class, but I had this silly impression that I moved with grace. Then I saw Cheng’s demonstration, and now I feel more like a cactus tumbling through a sandstorm than seaweed dancing through water, which is what Cheng appears to be.

I like that Beachbody is promoting this program for a full spectrum of fitness abilities and not stereotypically equating tai chi with older or less active individuals (Daikeler reports that his focus groups included people ages 18 to 80). The videos here are short snippets about how Tai Cheng can benefit Insanity, P90X, and TurboFire fans, as well as everyday gals like me who want to move with precision, grace, and control, while also reaping the mind-calming effects of the ancient martial art. Soundbytes that stood out for me in the introductory video were “developing exquisite control in proprioception” and “better stability, better control, and better performance.” Sounds a little like yoga, huh?

Tai Cheng is slated to become available sometime in this first quarter of 2012, and while I am impressed with the product and commend Beachbody for expanding its demographics, this isn’t to say I’m going to follow through and invest in it. I am a much better student when part of a live class, and unless I’m trying to soothe a backache through Viniyoga, DVDs just aren’t my thing. I feel a bit ADD when standing in front of a TV screen, and since Tai Cheng is a comprehensive 90-day “program,” it is very likely I would never steadily stick to the 3-month plan. However, if it’s something one could do, say, once or twice a week, then perhaps I’ll be more open to the concept. For people who crave routine and a “graduation” from a fitness program, then Tai Cheng could be their theng…err, thang. 🙂

Speaking of tai chi, did you know that Saturday, April 28 is World Tai Chi Day? My sister and I plan to attend an event at a local fitness center that will feature demonstrations and group participation activities, plus some tai chi sword forms!

Note. I was not paid/compensated or asked to write this post and have no vested interest in Beachbody or Tai Cheng.

I am so excited to be adding a new item into my toolbox of mind-body-spirit “flowtation” devices: tai chi!

Starting this week, my sister and I (and hopefully our grandmother) will be taking a 10-week series in tai chi chuan.

It is not the first time I have dabbled in tai chi. My gym offers a class (led by a master instructor), which I’ve dropped into a few times, and then in the summer of 2010 I took a 6-week series in tai chi chih. I took the chih class during a very stressful time in my life, and that weekly gathering kept me grounded. My mind was all over the place that summer, and that one hour and 15 minutes each week was my lifeline. However, as much as the practice contributed to my well-being, in the end, I definitely felt a greater attraction toward the chuan style of tai chi.

Tai chi chuan is the style most people are familiar with, the steady flow from posture to posture that resembles an underwater dance. Tai chi chih, on the other hand, is a series of 19 movements that are done more like repetitions in a set. They are just as flowing as the movements in the chuan style, but they are not linked as seamlessly and it is not considered a martial art like chuan.

My sister, her boyfriend, and I took a free introductory class last week. My grandmother–who we’re trying to encourage to attend class–backed out at the last minute due to painful sciatica flare. We are trying to rally as many people as we can to take this class; as this article describes, there is pretty much no reason not to do tai chi. It helps improve memory and balance, can lower blood pressure, and helps reduce depression. The day of last week’s free class, as if on cue, this article popped up on my Google Reader from the New York Times wellness blog, about a study touting the benefits of tai chi for individuals with Parkinson’s disease.

Even after practicing for an hour under bright florescent lights (ugh!) and an overhead fan (on a 35-degree night–brr!), I left last week’s class feeling pretty darn good. I had been trying to get my lower back to crack all day; it had felt “stuck” since 7 a.m. Sure enough, after class I pressed my hands against my sacrum and pop! Relief. I loved the class’ gentle warm-ups, the way the movements felt like a dance to me, but one in which I had to exercise concentration and control. The instructor is also a certified hypnotherapist, and I swear after listening to his steady voice for 60 minutes, my brain had shifted into a very peaceful state of mind. It was not the workout I am used to at all, but it gave me that same focused and centered mind that I usually achieve after doing yoga.

Finding this class–convenient in terms of location, time, and cost–as well as the fact that we’ve got some family involved, makes me feel good. Really good. If only I could get the whole family to try it out, and then we could turn suburban New Jersey into a mini Beijing:

Common sight as we drove through China. (June 2006)

I took a step into unfamiliar territory the other night and went to a group circuit training class. It’s part of an 8-week series at a local adult school, and I knew that for this to be effective (read: for me to actually attend class for 8 weeks straight), I’d have to commit for realz and throw down the cash. I filled out a registration form, signed a check, and everything!

Yes, I belong to a gym and I also have lots of free weights and fitness gadgets at home, but for a while now I have felt the need for some structure when it comes to strength training. I love doing kettlebell exercises at the gym, but my body really can’t tolerate more than 1 day a week of that. I have a buttload of strength routines from magazines and websites printed out, but sometimes the act of just reading the instructions and comprehending where each body part is supposed to be is tiring in and of itself, and after I’ve “studied” the exercises for 20 minutes I have no desire to actually do them.

All I want is a little live guidance every now and then, to push me for 45 minutes and make sure all my parts are in the right place. Nothing too crazy (not quite ready for Bodypump yet) but nothing too wimpy either. Circuit training is perfect for my body, a chance for me to get cardio without overdoing it with jarring repetitive motions, and strength training, a time to build muscle. And dude, you can’t beat the price either! $3 per class? Community education rocks…property taxes at work!

The class was packed with people of all different ages, sizes, and fitness attire. It was so vibrant that I was never really self-conscious about my hip, that between sets I had to jiggle it a little. No one noticed that I didn’t lunge as deep on my left side.

What I was self-conscious about, though, was my knack for always looking like a dancer, even when I’m trying to be buff. I have this image of myself in my mind, that, due to swimming, I’m this ridiculously toned athlete. I mean, after 30 minutes of swimming, my arms feel spent, and while it’s true that my back and shoulders have changed form from swimming, my gangly upper body still screams ballerina. Not only in appearance but in movement, too. How come some people lift dumbbells over their head and look strong, and I look like I’m practicing a port de bras with 5 pounds of iron in each hand?

Ballet days

And don’t get me started on the jumping jacks. We did a variation of the typical jumping jack, jumping out wide-legged into a squat with the arms coming through the center of our body and out to the side. In other words, I felt like I was doing small jumps in a ballet class, a series of echappes to the tune of Britney Spears rather than classical piano. I felt so proper, so poised. And I couldn’t break free from the elegance!

I love that ballet is ingrained in my body but sometimes it’s like the dorky little sister who sneaks up on you in the school hallway when you’re trying to hang out with the cool crowd. “Hey ballet, whatevs. I’m here with the chiseled athletes now, doing my super-tough jumping jacks. We’ll catch up later. Nerd.”

Thanks to a sleet/snow/sleet storm on early Saturday morning, “long walks outside” have temporarily been suspended as a potential exercise option. The weekend is usually my time to bundle up, fire up my podcast-stuffed iPod, and head out for a long walk, but Mother Nature dumped just enough crap on the streets and sidewalks that any “walk” would be more of a waddle as I try to stay upright on an uneven surface of leftover crusty ice.

Day 1, Saturday, was bearable. I spent most of the morning/early afternoon taking down Christmas decorations and cleaning the downstairs and went swimming at the gym an hour before closing. Actually getting myself to the pool was a feat straight out of my previous post, having to drive down slushy streets and tip-toe over a parking lot of black ice before stripping down to barely nothing and jumping in a large body of water.

I don’t like swimming on consecutive days, so Sunday I woke up with a challenge. How to earn those endorphins?

With that, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to introduce you to the most desperate workout in history: Living room walking!

Materials needed: (a) a long living room, clear of furniture; (b) a 10-pound weighted vest, to increase the chances of actually sweating and getting a workout; (c) an optional set of stairs, to add some glute/quad action; and–the most critical element–(d) a TV, to kill the time that will seem to drag on forever and ever…and ever.

I walked back and forth, back and forth, back and forth for 2.93 miles. For people who run, that number is nothing. For people who living room walk, that’s a freakin’ marathon.

It could not have been done without support from one of my favorite people of the moment:

I’m looking at you, Felicity. And Noel, Ben, Julie, and Elena. A Netflix subscription with wifi streaming makes living room walking soooo much more bearable. Felicity is one of my latest Netflix guilty pleasures. I don’t know why I’m so into it. I watched it in college (her school years coincided with mine), but I stopped watching it after Season 2. And now, at age 31, I’m totally hooked. It’s so cheesy! Ben, Noel, Ben, Noel. Ugh, just make up your mind, girl!

I don’t know if my other current guilty pleasure is better or worse:

Only Netflix would introduce me to an Australian teen drama that’s essentially a TV version of Center Stage. Sure, there’s some legitimate dancing involved, but for the most part this show is about unrequited love, schoolgirl crushes, prima donna ballerina snobs, and rough-and-tough boys who are ashamed to admit they love ballet. I’m hooked. And–100% totally true confession–I used the show as inspiration to get myself to the pool on Saturday, pretending I was a serious student at the “Swim Academy” and had to get to practice. Just swap a leotard for a Speedo, pointe shoes for flippers…same difference.

So, there you have it. Living room walking with Felicity and Australian teen drama-inspired swim workout. I just need to add a Golden Girls squat-and-lunge routine, and I’m on my way to becoming the triathlete of geekdom.

Today marked my first-ever guest post (ever!) on this World Wide Web thingeroo. I typed it all up in my own WordPress account and then scratched my head and thought, “Hmm, now how do I get this to the hosting blog??” Clearly, I am a novice. 🙂

Appropriately, the post is over at the Healthy Disney site, which combines my two passions: Disney and health! (Many thanks to Pete for letting me know about its existence!) In my first guest post, I write about my experience swimming laps in our pool at the Wilderness Lodge.

Read the post here!

Sleepy swimmer

My vacation countdown has officially entered the single digits, so my brain–usually bouncing off the wall with blogging ideas–is stuck in WORK.PACK.PANIC mode. I don’t know about anyone else, but the final days before vacation are so tense for me; it’s not until I’m at the airport–through security with boarding pass in hand–that I realize this is supposed to be fun. (And I don’t want to think that far ahead, but this article discusses how there really is no such thing as post-vacation bliss; most of the happiness of a vacation comes before and during the trip. Then we just all snap back to baseline. Wah.)

Yes, I cry when I leave Disney World.

But at least we don’t have any hurricane clean-up to worry about before we leave. As it turns out, Irene was ever-so-kind to our little South Jersey community: Our trees stayed intact, we never lost power, and thanks to some last-minute gutter work courtesy of my husband, our basement remained water free. So for us, thankfully, “Splash Mountain” turned off the water canons and graced us instead with a gentle misting spray. There was a lot of damage elsewhere, though, and plenty of people are still walking around the Magic Kingdom in their squishy socks and shoes and soaked-through shorts and T-shirts. (OK, Disney analogy ends…now.)

So, aside from doing all the normal hurricane prep work like digging out our flashlights (and accidentally getting battery acid all over your hand), turning down the refrigerator/freezer temperatures (wow, that made for some solid-as-a-rock frogurt the next day), and buying the essential nonperishable food items (seems like everyone turned into carb-loading ultramarathoners overnight), Bryan and I added a few unique tasks to the list:

Go green!

Environmentally friendly water storage. Which is what happens when every store is out of bottled water and you need to get creative.

Slumber party!

Sleeping on the living room floor instead of upstairs, to stay as clear as possible from the roof. This picture makes an impromptu living room sleepover look fun; it was not. No much how much bedding you use, the floor is still hard (and sleeping on the couch is just awkward). I don’t know how we did it back then in our elementary school days.

After being holed up in the house for about 24 hours, I was going so stir-crazy. The worst of the storm was over by Sunday morning, but it was still too dangerously windy outside for me to consider taking a stroll down my ancient-tree-lined neighborhood. I did some yoga–that calmed me down for a while–but later in the afternoon I was desperate. I picked up my 6-pound medicine ball and told Bryan to play “catch” with me in the living room.

Play ball!

I know a lot of people come to this blog after searching for “medicine ball exercises,” so if you’re looking for some rainy-day fitness fun, here are some ideas, to be done with a partner:

Underhand toss, with squat. Stand with legs a little wider than hip-distance apart. Keeping head, neck, and spine aligned, squat down as though sitting in a chair with ball held low between the legs. From this low position, toss ball to partner with an underhand throw, using biceps and inside forearm as the active muscles. Person catching the ball can do a quick grab and lower into this starting position on the catch.

Overhand toss, with or without squat. Hold ball to upper chest with palms facing outward. Toss ball to partner with a “pushing” kind of motion (kind of like taking a foul shot in basketball). You’ll feel this in the triceps. Partner catches the ball with hands in same position. Adding a small squat (with legs hip-distance apart) intensifies the move.

One-hand underhand toss. If you are like me and have hypermobile joints, I do not recommended this with a 6-pound ball (my shoulders were aching the next day–an “ouch” ache, not a “good workout” ache). Basically, we were mimicking a bowling kind of motion, stepping out with the one leg and tossing the ball underhand with the opposite arm, as though rolling a bowling ball down the alley. Partner catches the ball in standard catch fashion. I think I would have been fine with 4 pounds or so, but those 6 pounds made my rotator cuff so wonky.

• On the other hand, 6 pounds was too light for the back-to-back ball exchange, in which you stand back to back with your partner, holding the ball with two hands. Turn to right and pass ball to partner (his left). Partner swivels around to other side as you swivel around to meet him on your left side, grabbing ball from him and swiveling to your right, so on and so forth.  Do a few repetitions in one direction and then switch sides. This was ridiculously easy with 6 pounds and we gave up after a few rounds. Would have been much more effective with at least 12 pounds.

We kept at it for about 10 minutes, and I worked up a pretty decent sweat! It was a great way to combine keeping conversation with my husband, having fun, and beating the hurricane-day fidgets.

Fortunately the winds died down right before the sun set, so we were able to go on a pleasant walk around town at dusk. Post-hurricane weather is wacko–it was absolutely gorgeous outside! Blue skies, beautiful clouds, chirping birds…all very strange juxtaposed next to severed tree limbs and saturated leaves plastered all over the roads.

How did you beat the rainy-day, Hurricane Irene weekend blues?

Maybe it’s because Bryan and I have been watching 24 for months on end and I have a secret desire to be Jack (Jackie?) Bauer, or maybe it’s just because I needed to spice up my workouts, but, as I mentioned previously, I went out and got myself a weighted vest from Reebok. I’m not sure how I appear to strangers; I suppose I look like (a) either a very dedicated aerobic walker or (b) a 30-something girl training for the FBI and taking my new Kevlar vest for a spin around the parks of South Jersey.

To be honest, although I am harboring a secret desire to be Jack Bauer’s next female sidekick, I was also looking for a way to add some oomph to my walking workouts. There are only so many things you can do to jazz up walking, and I’ve done most of them: add speed intervals, stick to hilly routes, go out for looooong walks (5-6 miles), trek around the park with invisible skis (a.k.a., Nordic walking poles), or climb a steep set of steps every 3 minutes (thanks to the path at Red Bank Battlefield Park).

I used to make the mistake of carrying small hand weights or even strapping ankle weights onto my legs, but afterward my joints would always feel awful. No wonder! More and more sports articles are pointing out the injuries caused by use of such weights while walking or running. Swinging weights back and forth totally throws the body off center, and I can’t even imagine the damage I was doing to my poor hip trying to walk with weights strapped to my feet. I already have enough problems with uneven hips and one leg that’s slightly shorter than the other, and I’m sure adding a weighted pendulum motion to my walk wasn’t helping!

Enter the weighted vest, a way of getting your body to exert a little more energy while walking without compromising your form. This particular one from Reebok has four pockets (2 in the front, 2 in the back) that can hold up to 10 1-pound sandbags. Drawstrings on the side allow you to cinch the vest close to your chest so it’s not flapping in the wind, and it hugs you right at the core so your arms and legs can swing freely. (The Velcro pockets are also perfect for stashing your keys or cash, for those days when you’re otherwise pocket-less.) The most weight I’ve used so far has only been 4 pounds, and–let me tell you–that’s perfectly enough for now! I feel it after a 3- or 4-mile walk, and if I ever bump up the weight, my walk will definitely not be as long. Or at least not in mid-July. 🙂

Of course, one of the downsides to the weighted vest is the dork factor. I’m a little white girl with glasses, not some beefy linebacker who needs to bulk up in time for football season. Also, because it really does kind of look like a bulletproof vest, I think some people get nervous that there’s a sting operation going down or that I’m tracking some kind of terrorist activity (which is why choosing the park right across the river from the international airport to wear the vest was probably not the best idea).

For those reasons, I think my vest and I will stick to Cooper River, the Ellis Island of exercisers (“We’ll take your tired, your poor, your weighted vests and sweatsuits in mid-summer…”). One of the things I love about Cooper River, aside from its spaciousness and terrific view of the Philly skyline, is the people. There are so many shapes, colors, faces, and ability levels trekking around that river that no one ever really looks silly or stupid. At Cooper River, ankle weights, wrist weights, dumbbells…all welcome. I’ve seen dudes walk around the river carrying 10-pound weights in each hand, some while wearing weighted vests too. Some hard-core guys wear those vinyl trashbag-like sweat suits in the summer sun. The cyclists wear their sleek shirts and oh-so-tight shorts, some ladies wear giant fanny packs with dangly keychains. One morning I saw an older woman use a short, thick tree branch as a weighted bar, lifting it overhead as she walked. Another woman carried two frozen water bottles, pumping them as weights. Older men do tortoise-paced jogs around the river, and some woman think flip-flops are sensible walking shoes. I once saw an Asian women do tai chi on the grass, and sometimes there is a guy who does some other form of slow-motion Asian martial arts, complete with a boombox playing windchime music and informational brochures on display. In short, anything goes at Cooper River.

What out-of-the-ordinary things do you do at the park or while working out? Like, for example, do you pretend you’re an airplane?

More on this craziness to come...

Lately I’ve been discovering that some of my best workouts happen when I’m just winging it, when I leave the house for work in the morning with not a clue of what I’m going to do for that evening’s workout. I’ll always leave with a bag of random gear in hand–yoga mat, sneakers/socks, shorts, combination lock for the gym. Sometimes I use ’em, sometimes I don’t.

Don’t get me wrong, structure is great. In fact, it is somewhat scary for me NOT to have a solid plan, because I am normally a very.structured.person. I like to be home by 8 on weeknights, ensuring me enough time to stretch before bed, get the next day’s outfit together, prep the coffee maker, make tomorrow’s lunch. I wake up by 5:30 every morning so I can do my “routine”–more stretching, some breathing, a little yoga, a few hip exercises before hitting the shower. I have difficulties being spontaneous, because in my mind, I already have a plan.

When it comes to working out, though, I’ve been finding that I get discouraged if I start the day at 8 a.m. thinking, “OK, tonight you will ride the bike for 30 minutes and then do 10 minutes of abs and an upper-body workout.” My body doesn’t respond well to repetitive motion exercises like biking or the elliptical, so the instant I tell myself that’s what I have to do, I already start hating it. Nine times out of 10 I’ll still follow through with it, but I’ll leave the gym feeling meh instead of yeah!

As I mentioned in this previous post, sometimes just tossing a medicine ball for a few minutes sparks a spontaneous and exhilarating workout. So this week I’ve been making an effort to just wing it, or–to tie in with my blog’s mission statement–to go with the flow. Here’s what happened:

• I woke up early last Saturday because I thought I’d go swimming before my friend’s pool party later that evening (hey, what’s wrong with a little double dipping?). But as the morning wore on, it was clear that I was never going to get my butt to the gym; also, it was beautiful out that day, and I hate wasting sunny skies and summer weather by being inside. So instead of a bathing suit, I slipped into some shorts and sneakers and headed out for an aimless walk. Two bathroom stops, one organic juice purchase, a red iPod Nano on the fritz, and 7 miles later, I arrived back home, in just enough time to clean myself up and change into that bathing suit for my friend’s party. There, I played around with a kickboard in the pool and treaded water in the deep end for a bit. Long walk AND some light swimmy-swim. Score!

• With my hair still heavy with chlorine from the previous night’s party, on Sunday I headed back into the pool for a lap workout. But because I got a decent night’s sleep and had coffee recently infused in my system, my body was primed for anything but light swimmy-swim. A huge burst of energy came out of nowhere, and my normal ho-hum out-and-back lap routine turned into fast-forward, high-powered workout. In my workout log, I actually termed it the “Woah, Speed!” swim.

• Monday was probably the most satisfying of winging-it days. It was the day before the summer solstice, the weather was warm, the sun was brilliant. I felt like I had to honor this day and soak up as much daylight as possible (aaaah, the bittersweetness of summer solstice, the commencement of my favorite season yet also the beginning of the end of what feels like round-the-clock sunlight, happiness, and rainbows). I drove to the nearby Red Bank Battlefield, which is ever-so-gradually becoming my go-to spot whenever Mother Nature is dressed to the nines (Side note: It’s a national park, so there are rangers on site. Rangers, with government patches on their shirt sleeves, wide-brimmed ranger hats, and official-use golf carts to drive around the property. I love rangers! It makes the place feel so official. It reminds me of Ranger Rick magazine!) There, I threw together an impromptu workout of walking around the many winding pathways, climbing the steep steps several times, doing some triceps dips on park benches, and attempting to do a chin-up on a tree branch (FAIL, because the branch ended up being a lot higher than it looked).

The sun wasn’t ready to set yet, so I set up camp (plopped down my yoga mat) on the big lawn that faces the Delaware River.

I did some basic yoga stuff (lots of sun salutes), but I had on my iPod and the music was calling for me to dance. I did stand on my yoga mat and do a lot of dance-inspired asanas, but the sprawling lawn, glowing sun, sparkling river, and overall beauty of the day were just begging me to bust out some free-form moves. I’m ashamed to admit I was held back by fear of what others in the park would think of me, this girl dancing in the grass. My body ached to express itself in such a picturesque environment, and even though I felt insulated by the iPod ear buds that separated me from any passersby’s comments, I held back and did not dance how my body was requesting to. I moved and grooved with reservation; it was nice, but not 100% fulfilling. How come I think it’s acceptable for someone to sit on a park bench and play the guitar while singing along, but I fear that dancing is totally weird? Argh. Still, a pretty decent combination of random stuff that made me sweat and get my heart rate up.

• Tuesday morning, I was listening to my otherwise chill Grooveshark playlist as I did my morning stretches when Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” clicked on. Suddenly, I was on my feet and dancing. Hard. What was supposed to be a few minutes of gentle yoga postures turned into a spontaneous dance party, and by the end I really needed my morning shower. (Note: This happened again this morning as I was listening to Florence and the Machine’s album [Lungs] for the first time. Seriously, how can one NOT be moved to dance to “Cosmic Love”?! Note II: It’s the song they’re playing with the trailer for Elephants for Water.)

• Thursday night is supposed to be my non-negotiable hot vinyasa class. The studio is 2 minutes from my office, I love the teacher, and it’s one of the few studio class I get to take each week. I had my mat and change of clothes packed, but when I left the office I suddenly just didn’t want to go to class. It was insanely humid outside already. I wasn’t looking forward to getting home no earlier than 8:00 p.m., missing the group number of So You Think You Can Dance as I showered, and rushing to make dinner. I still wanted to do yoga, however, so instead I came home, took the laptop upstairs to my yoga room (which, given the weather, already felt like a hot yoga studio), and did a 75-minute Jivamukti podcast. I love that the classes are recorded live, so when I Om, other students are Omming along with me! (Many thanks to all the yoga teachers out there who record their classes and put them online; taking a “live” class is so much better than listening to someone speak into a microphone in a recording studio.) I still feel like I’m getting that community experience…plus it makes for a wild experience when the music the podcast teacher plays during savasana is the same as what my hot vinyasa teacher would have been playing at that time!

I was winging it, but that security blanket of familiarity was still rolled up under my knees, supporting me along the way.

…is the one that results after you tell yourself, “Oh, lemme do just a few sun salutations before I start dinner,” and then an hour later–after Warrior lunges, balancing postures, belly-down back stretches, a shoulderstand-to-plough-to-fish, headstand, savasana, pranayama, and meditation–you emerge from your little yoga room physically hungry but otherwise incredibly satiated and satisfied.

I surprise myself; sometimes on days where I feel utterly lazy or low on energy, all it takes are a few sun salutes, a couple of medicine ball tosses, or a few minutes dancing to that song featured the night before on So You Think You Can Dance and suddenly I’m doing an hour-long yoga practice, playing around with my dumbbells and resistance bands, or throwing a full-blown dance party in my living room to songs from my Grooveshark playlist.

I can’t necessarily plan for spontaneity–it’s a bit of an oxymoron–but it’s good to know that some of the best workouts can emerge without intention or preparation. It doesn’t always work; sometime blasting my favorite dance songs generates nothing more than half-assed hip sways and limp shoulder rolls, but it’s worth giving it a shot. If there’s something there, all it may take is one little spark to get the engine going.

About the Author

Name: Jennifer

Location: Greater Philadelphia Area

Blog Mission:
SHARE my practice experience in conscious dance and yoga,

EXPAND my network of like-minded individuals,

FULFILL my desire to work with words in a more creative and community-building capacity;

FLOW and GROW with the world around me!



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