On Being a Warrior Princess and Karma-lazation
I have had a love affair with exercise since my twenties. No matter where I was with my battle of the bulge, I enjoyed getting my cardio on, feeling strong. Over the years, I went through the Jane Fonda fad (though I did manage somehow to avoid the leg warmers, thank God), I ran, did step aerobics, spinning, and finally fell in love with Tae Bo. In kickboxing, I had found my exercise soulmate.
I always pushed myself really hard…often too hard. I ran many 10k’s, a half marathon, and a biathlon that almost killed me. The issue there was that I was the only person in the entire race with a mountain bike. It was like showing up to a gun fight with a knife. I pedaled until my heart about burst, and still the cyclists whizzed by me thanks to my fat, slow tires. I will never forget the person who was in the race specifically to come in last so that none of the participants felt like losers. Yeah, I rode across the finish line with him. Nonetheless, I finished, never stopping.
But…kickboxing. Something about it intrigued me. It made me feel strong, like a warrior princess. I was Mary Poppins who could also kick some serious butt. People were shocked when they found out that mild mannered Denise had another side. My students always joked, telling the incoming freshmen not to mess with Dr. Gainey- she kickboxes! Kickboxing got me through the dissolution of a long marriage, a move to a new city and a new job, stresses at work. It helped to give me confidence and toned my body like no other exercise had before.
When I moved to Birmingham and met Dan, I started taking kickboxing classes at our YMCA, and ended up doing the certification to teach when I turned forty. I knew I wouldn’t have time to teach a class with my hectic teaching and performing schedule, but something inside me craved proof…proof that I could cut the mustard and keep up with the young gals half my age. And I did…when they fell by the wayside, my forty-year-old backside was still fighting. It was an incredible feeling, empowering.
I also started doing yoga, but I still had that mindset that if I wasn’t doing tons of cardio, that it wasn’t really doing me any good- I wasn’t really exercising. I developed repetitive stress injuries in my arms- not good for a clarinetist, and severe sciatica, and still I pushed myself. When would I learn?
When I severely broke my ankle four years ago, my exercise routine came to a screeching halt. All of the sudden there was no kickboxing, no weights, not even dog walks. My life revolved around sitting on the couch with my leg propped up on a giant yellow foam wedge. It was depressing…I could feel my inner warrior princess fading away with each passing day. I wondered if as would ever get her back.
When I first began my feeble attempts at exercise post surgery, I started with walking my dogs. The first day that I was able to finish a full walk and make it up our thirty-four stairs to the house, I burst into tears. It wasn’t much, but I had done it. I vowed I would get my exercise mojo back, slowly, but surely.
I have learned a lot about myself over these past four years. I am made of tough stuff…but I am also fifty-one now. The metal hardware in my ankle talks to me if I overdo it, talks to me when the weather changes. I don’t run anymore- it’s not worth the sore ankle. I still kickbox, but I have to be careful, paying attention to my achy back and rotator cuff issues. Some of the moves I used to do all of the time don’t happen, as my body reminds me to modify, be more gentle with myself.
One of my biggest lessons has been to have more respect for the practice of yoga. Once I seriously began to do yoga, I realized I could still be a warrior princess- yoga has given me muscle definition that kickboxing didn’t even do (I’ve got guns, baby!). Yoga is physically challenging, but, and possibly more importantly, it is mentally challenging. It is the one thing that can calm and focus my ever-spinning mind. I discovered the beauty- and health benefits- of cross training. This is the key to my ability to keep on kicking, punching, and Namaste-ing into my golden years.
My husband is my yoga teacher, teaching a Vinyassa flow style of yoga in a very warm room (“hot yoga”, but not Bikram). I love it, and I love sharing in his passion for yoga. He is sixty-one, but you would never know it. He credits yoga with how well he has aged (and some pretty darn good family genes). Whatever he’s doing, it works. I’m staying along for the ride.
On May first, I began my own fitness and creative bootcamp, beginning a new exercise series called Turbofire, which is high intensity interval training, developed by the woman whose style of kickboxing I was certified in. It is tough, fast-faced and challenging. I am being smart, finally really listening to my body…and I’m doing yoga three times a week. It’s not about trying to be skinny anymore- something I am just not meant to be- it’s about being fit, aging well.
Tonight’s ninety-minute yoga class was extra tough. The room was extremely warm (okay- stiflingly freakin’ hot ). By the time class ended, I was drenched, melting…I had been karma-lized. Even through my dizzy, sweat-dripping haze, I felt at peace. And I felt strong. That’s because I am Mary Poppins, Warrior Princess. Hear me roar.