My exercise of choice used to be Ballroom Dancing. I loved moving my body to the sound of music and thrilled in my ability to move gracefully across the dance floor. I spent hours with my dance partner perfecting the movements of the dance; and spent many hours with a high impact aerobics instructor in order to be “dance fit”. My aim was to compete in five dances, one after the other, and make it seem effortless. I could not imagine exercising without moving to the rhythm of music.
Fifteen years later I have had two children and dancing has become a part of my “before-children” phase. A firm believer in the benefits of exercise for growing children, I have walked my children to swimming lessons, skating lessons, and (on request) Tae Kwon Do (TKD) lessons. Each week I have taken them to our local community centre so that they can get their weekly quota of exercise in order to grow physically strong.
In January of this year, my husband and I decided our girls needed more marshal arts training than they were getting at the community centre. They needed to take the sport seriously and learn to perfect their form. We enrolled them in a TKD dojang (school) and have seen them blossom under the tutelage of their new Master and instructors.
But what about me? I fell into the trap that many mothers fall into: the trap of looking after the health of the family and not my own. My exercise regime suffered. My own physical activity consisted of walking my daughters to their lessons; and trying, sometimes successfully, to follow a DVD at home early in the morning before the household awoke. No longer was I exercising for up to 2 hours a day. Instead, I have watched my children partake in their lessons, praised them and encouraged them, watched physical activity from the sidelines. I have felt proud of my children’s achievements and progress, and celebrated with them each small success.
“What about mum?” the TKD Master asked me one day after a lesson. “You are here, try it.” She encouraged me to join in, noticing that I often watched with interest the participants in her class. “Maybe you will like it. It will help you with your weight, and give you energy to be with the kids.” (She knew I am a teacher of young children). I knew on some level that I was neglecting my own physical fitness but, secretly, I hoped to one day dance again. Realistically I knew that it would not happen for a long time, not while I had children dependant on me to take them to their physical activities. And in the meantime? I gained weight, and lost the fitness that I once used to enjoy. I decided to take the Master up on her challenge and join the other adults I had watched exercise with their children.
Four months ago I donned the white uniform of the TKD student. As I tightened my white belt around my waist, young voices of encouragement echoed in my mind: “You can do it mommy! I know you can!” The voices of the instructors joined those of my children as they encouraged me to do sit-ups, push-ups, and even cartwheels.
I will not tell a lie and say that the classes were easy. I am not supple and struggled to even touch my toes. My heart beat races after the first few minutes of cardio. Often during the class I am left breathless as I strive to keep up with those fitter and younger than me. And yet … I revel in the aching muscles and physical fatigue that helps me sleep at night. I welcome learning movement again albeit without the sound of rhythmic beats. I am learning slowly to master the movements, the exercises and patterns, the Korean terms.
I felt pleased when I attained my next belt and wore the colour proudly. My children helped me learn the new patterns, and I practised a little each day when I woke up. I have slowly begun to feel stronger – certainly the muscles in my legs are getting firmer. I am surprised at how many push-ups I am now able to do (I can now do more than one!). I have reached my toes in the stretches and am now working on touching my head to my knees. I enjoy the camaraderie of the classes and still watch in admiration those who have attained a higher belt.
I have just completed the test for my orange belt and feel I am now on a TKD journey. Each time I tie my belt around my waist, not only am I showing that I have attained the next level and am committed to this marshal art, but also that I have made a commitment to my own physical exercise and well-being. And the next best thing? I am exercising with my children – both in the classroom, and when we practise together at home.
Have you ever fallen into an unexpected exercise regime?
(This post was inspired by the WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge: Fit to Write)
© Colline Kook-Chun, 2013