I sing the body electric

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If any thing is sacred the human body is sacred,/And the glory and sweet of a man is the token of manhood untainted,/And in man or woman a clean, strong, firm-fibred body, is more beautiful than the most beautiful face./Have you seen the fool that corrupted his own live body? or the fool that corrupted her own live body?/For they do not conceal themselves, and cannot conceal themselves. –Walt Whitman’s “I Sing the Body Electric”

A body is not a catalog of limbs or a machinery of organs at work. It’s not a drape of skin over skeleton, nor is it a costume we so assiduously assume and then discard. One’s body is a house with all the lights switched on. It’s a place where we invite others in, and sometimes we take up lovemaking like needlework. Other times we solicit solitude and revel in our rest. But mostly, it’s our life’s work, our personal harvest, and we tend to it with the sort of care that give our beloveds or children. We have this one great, sweeping life, and I’ve come to realize that our body carries us through this journey out of the dark — that first thrust, the screams, the tightly-clenched fists and face all flushed and bloodied red — to the light and back into the dark again, skin like worn cashmere and a body that longs for an eternal rest. So in the space that occupies the child and the departed, don’t we owe it to ourselves to love this house we’ve inherited? Every nail, every brick?

Last week I looked at a photograph of myself in my twenties and wished I had loved myself more. I was thin, but not thin enough, back then. Or so I thought. I lived with a man who regarded my slight frame as something gargantuan, a mythic beast out of a sci-fi movie, and during a time when I subsisted on coffee, Lean Cuisine, yoghurt and red wine, an angry man on a subway platform called me fat. Why did I choose to see myself through eyes other than mine? Why did it take this long to see me through me? And when I read Grace Atwood’s post, it reaffirmed a sea-change that many women I know have been experiencing — fitness as a celebration of our houses rather than tombs in which we exercise punishment.

I’ve been waging a war with my body for as long as I could remember. From an awkward child who developed too fast to a rail-thin writer turned executive with a severe drinking problem, my body was a shape from which I sought exit. If I could crawl out of it, I would. And instead I’d slip into what I’d coveted — long, tawny limbs and hips that don’t bloom. For a time all I did was stare at other women and compare my mess of a body, regardless of how small it was, to theirs. If only I had more discipline. If only I hadn’t lost that tape measure, the object I used to record my shrinking. Waist 26, Hips 36.

Five years ago my body changed. A stressful job, a manic schedule and an obsession with food delivery, and my weight ballooned more than I wanted it to. I hadn’t seen this body since I was in college, a time before I devoted a considerable amount of time to the reduction of Felicia. Around this time I was friends with someone who was cruel and verbally abusive, and because she had envied my professional success, even as I was adamant that one woman’s triumph is every woman’s triumph, she made snide comments about my weight. Told me that nothing tastes as good as skinny feels, and I felt lethal. I could kill. I could maim. Instead, I did the very thing I should have done all those years ago. I made the long journey back home. And I excised my friendship with a woman who was the human version of a barnacle.

I was determined to love my house, regardless of its shape. This took time. Oceans of it.

I don’t own scales. I don’t own tape measures. I don’t go on trendy, unhealthy juice cleanses and I don’t regard food as a thing from which I need to detox. I don’t shame myself like I once did, and I try to be mindful of bad habits, of talking about earning the right to eat a cookie. It would be a lie to say that sometimes I don’t glance over and pine for what another woman has, but I try to think about my house. How I need it to be strong to weather storms. How I need it to be warm and inviting. Because singing the body electric is about the thrill with oneself, awe at what the body is capable of achieving, and what it can deliver if you tend to it.

Today I spent the day with two of my very dear friends. My friend Sarah and I sweated through a class at Chaise Fitness, and after class we talked about how much we motivated one another, how we fed off our energy and how, during class, we’d sometimes roll our eyes and laugh because through all the work, we were still having fun.

Instead of the requisite let’s meet for an expensive dinner or drinks, my friends and I are trying classes all around the city. Many of us snagged Classtivity Passports, so we can sample yoga, barre, bootcamp, spin, dance — all on the cheap. We’re booking classes for Core Fusion, Bar Method, Physique 57, Yoga Vida, Pure Barre. We’re not comparing classes as if we’re in some marathon rap battle, because our predilections run personal. But I will tell you this: we’re laughing our way through our classes. Because, in the end, we want our houses sturdy and strong, whether we’re a studio apartment or a mansion.

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14 thoughts on “I sing the body electric

  1. Hooray for trying lots of things, because I believe the best exercise is whatever you can do consistently (albeit challenging yourself while doing it) so I hope you find something you love in the course of all of this discovery! And that’s not because you need to aspire to a certain body type or anything, but simply because the benefits of finding a routine that you love is so beneficial for the body, soul, and mind (which you totally get).

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  2. Dear friend, Thank you very much, I was really happy to have been following your blog. I’m still a lot to figure out, and here I can only say that you are an awesome blogger, full Inspiring and hope you can inspire more readers. Thanks and greetings compassion from Gede Prama 🙂

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  3. This is the first year I am remember that I have no weight loss goals or ridiculous resolutions. I didn’t start the year on a “diet” or an exercise in restrictive behavior. I stated the year with the intention of being joyful and energetic. Ah, the difference yoga had made in my life in so many ways.

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  4. I love everything about this post, and can relate so much to nearly everything you wrote. And it’s funny… I have been doing the exact same thing with my girlfriends…. meeting for Core Fusion or yoga after work rather than pricy cocktails / dinner. It’s been amazing. Beautifully written.

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  5. This is so beautifully written! I, too, have been meeting my friends at after work classes or for runs lately, and it has been so nice. Your post is a great reminder of how thankful we should be for our bodies and all they can do!

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    1. Amy! Thanks for popping by. It took me an awfully long time to get to a place where I am comfortable with my body and am able to find ways to celebrate it and treasure it, much like I would a home. Warmly, f.

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  6. This post is amazing!!! I feel it’s great to be able to workout with a girlfriend and motivate each other!!! I’ve been trying to grab my girls to go all over the place, purebarre, flywheel, yoga ect! Now I am gonna take a look at the classtivity Passports that you mentioned! Thanks girl! I also can’t wait to blog about my favorite work out studies located in Boston!

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