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Small Bites

            I’m trying to get back to exercising, in small bites. For months, each time I tried to get back on track after a particularly bad flare, I would return to my previous exercise routine: forty-five minutes on the recumbent bike, twenty minutes of physical therapy exercises for my neck and upper back, and ten minutes of yoga stretches. And then I’d be exhausted and wouldn’t even think of trying again for another week. And then, when I was recovering from oral surgery, and I knew I didn’t have the energy for any of those things, let alone all of them, I just stopped trying to exercise altogether. But that didn’t work for me either. I started to feel stiffness and pain returning to my neck and upper back in ways I’d thought I was done with, and, even more worrisome, I was often out of breath just from walking the dogs. It became especially obvious when I had to sing for hours at a time with the choir, during the High Holiday services at my synagogue, and I’d have to skip notes here and there just to breathe. I’d noticed the breathlessness months before, too, when I was still able to do my regular exercise routine three days a week, but at least back then I could tell myself that I was doing something to fix it.

“Breathe like me, Mommy!”

            So, I started with breathing exercises, two minutes a day, to gradually build back my breath capacity for singing. And then I went looking for some short exercise videos on YouTube, and I found a bunch of five and ten minute Yoga videos and re-found a five minute Tai Chi series I’d done a few years ago, and started with those.

            The problem is, I get obsessive. I ended up spending hours searching for more videos, and thinking I should try all of them, instead of just sticking with one or two. And then I got overwhelmed by all of the videos that came up on YouTube, promising weight loss/tightened facial muscles/removal of all anxiety/release of all trauma, in minutes. I’m so vulnerable to those promises, because I hate how long it takes to make progress, and I hate how circuitous the route to healing has to be, and I hate how confused I get, and I hate how easily I can get off track until I can’t even remember which track I was on or why. But after watching a bunch of those videos I felt even worse about myself, because they were telling me that the effort I’ve put into healing has been wasted, and I could have done it all in a matter of weeks if I’d just bought into this or that program from the beginning.

“Oh please.”

            And then I was watching an hour-long Yoga video and berating myself for not even trying to do all of the exercises and the noise in my head became extreme, and mean, and persistent, and exhausting.

And the reality is, I can’t do all of those things. And there is no magic cure for trauma or chronic illness. But I can do five minutes of Tai Chi, or five minutes of standing Yoga, and two minutes of breathing exercises, or even four. And I’m doing those things. And if I keep it up, I will be able to do a little bit more and a little bit more. And that is always how it has worked for me, and I know that, even if I hate it. So it’s back to small bites, for me, and one step at a time.

Harrumph.

“We like BIG bites!

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

Tai Chi

I have tried Tai Chi in the past and found it frustratingly slow and complicated and rage-inducing. But I’ve found that yoga encourages too much flexibility for my injury prone body of late, and I need to work on my balance and managing stress better, so I am trying Tai Chi again. It helps that I found five minute lessons on YouTube, with a very clear instructor (Leia Cohen). I like that she wears loose clothing instead of skin tight body suits like other exercise instructors, who seem to feel the need to advertise the effectiveness of their exercise routines, along with their clear genetic gifts.

Tai Chi is one of the only forms of exercise I’ve found that does not interest Cricket. Yoga inspired her to stretch and paw at me and bring me her toys. Sit ups and leg lifts were a clear signal that I wanted to scratch her back for twenty minutes at a time. But Tai Chi puts her to sleep.

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“I could use another blanket, Mommy.”

I had to stop the Tai Chi experiment for a couple of weeks while the two dogs (and the bird) were visiting. I was getting so much exercise from walking the dogs, and picking them up, and breaking up fights, but also it wasn’t safe to try to do Tai Chi in the living room with three small dogs weaving between my feet.

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There really wasn’t any room for me on that floor.

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Izzy did her version of Tai Chi with a banana chip.

But, a few days after they left, I started back up again, from the beginning, five minutes a day.

I’m not sure why it feels so difficult, or why five minutes seems like my limit. I’m not even sure if the limit is physical or emotional or spiritual. There’s physical pain involved in doing such slow movements, and being aware of each movement and how it feels in my body. There’s discomfort. Maybe that’s the more appropriate word for it. Tai Chi is supposed to be moving meditation, an attempt to center in the body and breath and find some calm. And maybe calm is uncomfortable for me, and attention to the body is uncomfortable.

All of my different aches and pains seem to get air time when I do Tai Chi, like a room full of senior citizens grumbling and groaning. I try to keep them on mute the rest of the time, with medication and distraction techniques, but Tai Chi seems to take me off mute.

My hope is that five minutes a day will lead me to ten minutes and eventually I will feel stronger and more centered, but I don’t know if this will work for me. All I can do is try.

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“You go ahead, Mommy. I’ll wait here.”