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Virtually Fit

Posted by Jen Goldston on May 1, 2020

You may remember the blog, Jen’s Fitness Journey: #GymMotivation. We’re delighted that Jen is starting this new blog, “Virtually Fit.” Enjoy!

June 5, 2020

“Exercise should be regarded as a tribute to the heart”

-Gene Tunney

Somehow, it’s June.

The impossibly fickle months of March and April have wrapped up, May has started and finished. The mornings where I would look out of my bedroom window to assess whether or not it was too frigid to run have given way to mornings where I am now assessing whether or not it is too humid to run. The empty calendar slots of the spring have morphed into a slow trickle of new-normal days with obligations and plans peppered in.

How then, to manage your changed workout routine as life picks back up? The last thing we want is to further tax an already stressed system by overloading it with goals or demands, so be careful as you continue your return to normalcy. Don’t punish yourself with restrictive diets or high demand workouts as a way to make up for days you rested or felt unable to perform during Quarantine. Don’t overdo it in the gym because you only managed to do cardio and want to make up for all those gains you feel you’ve lost.

Remember why you were working out in the first place, for health, strength and endurance, maybe to lower levels of stress and anxiety. Hopefully not to earn your next meal or as punishment for what you ate last.

As you begin to juggle a fuller work and home load, focus on movement that brings you joy, and that helps you re-center. Try to really allow your body and your mind to guide you. I’ve been operating under two seemingly contradictory statements during this quarantine. One being; “Rely on habits, not motivation” and two; “Do not force a body that wants rest, to work.”  But really, these statements overlap much more than you might think at first glance.

The work I’ve been doing on body acceptance, self-worth and self-care extend far beyond just working out. Exercise is a small part of a much larger web of wholeness, but it is nonetheless important. I think the foundation for self-care depends upon the idea that we trust ourselves. We have to unlearn and relearn that diet culture and body shaming serve only one purpose, and it is never ourselves or our happiness. We have to relearn that our brains and our bodies can be trusted. They can be trusted to tell us when they are tired, when they are hungry, and when they are ready to joyfully move.

When you intuit your body’s signals, it no longer becomes a push and pull of high motivation crashing into restriction and guilt, but instead, a formed habit of knowing that your body feels better with a balance of work, rest and fuel (and cupcakes, because cupcakes are delicious and dessert is not criminal).

I know you’re still thinking of that term: joyful movement, and wondering what kind of hokey trend it might be.

The idea of joyful movement is exactly what it sounds like. Physical activity that emphasizes joy. Whatever that looks like for you. So maybe the idea of a five mile run makes you want to dive head first back into bed, but a barre class, a bike ride or a dance party while you Swiffer the floor sounds like a good time. Do what makes your soul feel good. Honor yourself by setting aside some time in your day for what brings you happiness and health.

The JCC has done such a good job offering a multitude of different exercise classes for a variety of different movements, whether you like Yoga based classes, high impact cardio workouts, if weight lifting is your jam or an all-out kickboxing class, they have you covered. And a multitude of spaces, if instead of classes you like to do your own thing on the cardio deck or in the weight room. But if the idea of coming back to the gym doesn’t fit in with your current schedule, or is causing you anxiety, remember that there is a whole world of space out there to move in, and all of our programming is available to you virtually. So do what is right for you, and know that the JCC is here, rooting for you, missing you, and moving with you.

May 22, 2020

We’ve talked a lot about Group Exercise and the magnetic pull a room full of people who are there for a joint cause can give. We’ve covered the pendulum swing of emotions from grief and sorrow to fatigue and anger over when we are going to be able to return to our familiar places. When we can return to our familiar people, and do the workouts we enjoy, love and have grown to depend upon. We have talked about the search for balance, self compassion and care.

All of those things still hold true for me. I’m still working it all out, and you are probably also. To hold space for the fact that this is unprecedented and it’s okay if I don’t know how to juggle my former schedules. Those feelings are important. If exercise falls to the wayside sometimes because mental health or rest need to take priority, that’s okay. But I have to also remind myself that pandemics aren’t excuses to not take care of my body, if caring for my body is part of what keeps me feeling whole on a foundational level.

Let me say that again.
You don’t have to exercise right now if your body is calling for rest. But if not exercising is causing you mental unrest, then you need to figure out how to feed the famished part of your self, and it’s not always with food.

Ten weeks into this. Let me set the scene.
I’m in the shower (where I always do my best thinking. It’s also the place where I hold both sides of the conversation to every argument I’ve ever had [or not had] and convince myself that I should have been a lawyer, or a hostage negotiator.) But so I am in the shower, and I am trying to hype myself up for a workout.

“You can do whatever you want.” I tell myself, testing out my skills of bribery. “You can do a Group Class. Any Group Class. There’s a full schedule on our Facebook Fitness Group, and you’ve been paying for Mossa Move, maybe you should like.. oh I don’t know.. utilize it. You can do strength, or cardio… whatever you want.” and at the same time that I’m holding this end of the conversation I’m also saying “Or you can be a sloth. No one will know. No one will know because we are doing this thing now where we see no one. We go no where. We do nothing. You can workout tomorrow, maybe. There is probably cake in the fridge.”

Five hours later I hadn’t worked out.
The Casualty of Co-dependence.

I have wanted someone there to hold my hand every step of the way. A trainer, an instructor, a friend in class. Someone to whom my showing up would be noticed, my absence too. A mirrored validation. “See?” I would think to myself upon my arrival. “I was expected, and I am here. Commitment made, commitment fulfilled.” (Maybe even a head pat.)

Having an accountability partner can be helpful. It is nice to get to see someone you care about, or sharing a common interest or goal with a friend. However, your relationship with health has to first circle around You. It cannot be dependent on your friends stick-to-it-ness or on your trainers text check ins, or on whether your Group Class is still able to meet up during a Pandemic.

I was talking with a friend this week who has been carefully, kindly prodding and pushing me during the last 10 weeks to make sure I was showing up for myself. She wasn’t asking me to attend her classes, she didn’t care about the details of my workouts, if I was hitting personal records or barely breaking a sweat, she just wanted to know that I was still committing to myself and my own health. I said to her, mentally whining “I’ve been bad at following through. If I don’t have an accountability partner… chances are, I’m going to stand myself up. That’s why classes in person were so good for me.” and what she responded with really struck me.

She said: “You gotta kick that to the curb. There won’t always be someone else. It’s your thing, your life, you are strong, you don’t need anyone but you to do this.”

She is right. It is nice to have someone else, to feel like I am walking alongside someone who is maybe tired, or frustrated, or struggling when I am. Or to imagine that I am working alongside someone who is ready to break all the records, smash all the uncertainty, and do all of the things! But it is not necessary. All that is necessary is yourself. Your relationship with health is yours. No gym closures or lack of weights, or cold rainy days can separate you from that.

But it sure is nice to have those things, isn’t it?

So for now I will be my own accountability partner. I have to be. So that when the gym reopens, and my friends return, when my classes start back up… I am ready for them, healthy and whole.

I miss you guys! If you see me running in Frick Park, say “hi”, because while I am running to stay healthy and strong, in my head, I’m really running back to the J, and all of you.

May 15, 2020

This past week some things have felt more on track, and some things remain completely off kilter. Like the fact that I’ve been writing these twenty some odd words for three hours. Stalled, not due to writers block, but because our home, like many of yours, has become The Everything Zone. It is now the office for two adults, the school room for three children, it is the wrestling place, the movie theater, the gym, the library, the doctors office, the therapists office, the art studio, yoga studio and science lab. It is a 24/7 restaurant and the place we sleep. It is loud.

It’s loud inside my head, and often my house has matched my brain-volume; decibel for decibel.

There are things that are beginning to find their places though. For now. What I’ve been working on lately is to not dig my footing too deeply, in any given moment. I have tried to be intentional about planning a little less, and taking opportunity a little more. Which is completely contrary to my nature.

When I started this fitness journey I was a drill sergeant about my workout schedule. Three times a week with a trainer, classes exactly when I blocked them, come hell or high water. No excuses, no switching. Commitment made, commitment fulfilled. And that worked for me, then. Many things that worked then, aren’t working now.

So when I woke up yesterday and it didn’t feel like winter anymore, I stumbled bleary eyed from bed and kind of rolled into my workout clothes and oozed down the staircase and shuffled out for a run. That run felt so good, and yet it wasn’t planned. It did, however, set the tone for the day, the run made me feel energized and I was able to bang out my to-do list at home, and I felt good enough for some strength training later in the day, also unplanned. Prior to the shutdown, changes in plans would make me feel uncomfortable enough to avoid them.

You know what? This is all uncomfortable. The masks, and the uncertainty, the isolation and the worry… suddenly, plan changes don’t feel like such a big deal. It’s a good time to grow.

This morning, I planned on a similar trajectory as yesterday. I was going to wake up, I was going to run, and then come home and help my kids onto their respective seventy-bajillion zoom meetings, and bring them their breakfasts (anyone else recently become their children’s butler? Just me? That’s cool.) and I was going to do the laundry. Except fifteen minutes before my run I opened up the fridge intending to grab a bottle of water and realized my heathens had eaten the entire contents of my last grocery trip seemingly overnight. I had to smoosh a Whole Foods trip into the morning before a 9:45am commitment or lest they’d starve, or mutiny… it’s a toss up really. 

So I reconfigured. A hard and fast 20 minute run, plus a sweaty Supermarket Sweep type of grocery shop (sorry fellow shoppers!) and then what I needed to do. I came back to finish my run like eight hours later, but it’s fine. I’m better for having done it, even fragmented, than not having done it at all.

That’s how I feel when I am doing one of our virtual classes too. I don’t have the same space as at the J, and I don’t push as hard, my heart misses you guys, it is just harder to do it alone, right? Isn’t that what MOSSA is always saying? It’s way better in groups. But like Evan said before one of his classes this week, we are better off having done the workout, even if it wasn’t the best workout, or our heaviest weight factor, or even if we missed a few reps, skipped a song, took a break (an eight hour break), it is only the workout we didn’t do, that is a bad workout.

Continuing with the theme of group exercise, were you guys there for our amazing JCC wide ZOOMBA event this past week? Over ONE THOUSAND people logged on to dance together. Our very own JCC PGH was the #1 ranked for most members to register. Kudos to Bonnie Livingston for an awesome dance routine and to Evan Aiello for getting everything together for our JCC to participate. 

Membership Director Kelly Hont told me today that while she was watching the number of participants climb ever higher, she felt herself getting a little emotional. There we all were, separate, but together. Some of the 1000 people on the ZOOMBA event were friends, but so many more were strangers. Yet we were all there for the same reasons, a love of exercise, a continued pursuit of health, and a common joy of sharing those things with other people.

because we really are…

May 8, 2020

There seem to be two ways that I feel lately, and nothing in between. 

But if I’ve learned one thing from my time at the JCC and during this journey, it is that we thrive where there is balance. What does that mean now? I know I am not the only person laying awake at 3 am, their brain spit-firing the following: “Are we waking up for work? Are we going to work out? Are we going back to bed? Do we do any of these things anymore?”

Before all of this, before the virus and the panic, the shutdown of the economy and the wide swinging arm of society’s emotional shut down, balance for me looked like a whole lot of motivation with a healthy scoop of do it anyway for the days when motivation was hard to come by.

My classes were my incentive, my instructors, trainers, and friends were the electric pull that made working out feel less like a chore and more like a privilege. It gave structure to my day, but it also gave structure to my sense of self. The gym, outside of my house, forced me to momentarily take off all the other hats worn daily. It gave me permission to simply be Jen, and not Jen the wife, or Jen the parent or the social calendar jenga constructor. Now I’m setting up my step and weights for class while cutting strawberries and refereeing whose turn it is to play Fortnite or scoop the litter. It doesn’t satisfy the same way.

It doesn’t compare to being in the place that gave me space to breathe. All the healthy doses of do it anyway could not match what it means to scratch out an hour or two to focus on yourself, and truthfully, constantly pulling from the well of you just have to quickly sucked that well dry.

So what does balance look like now when everything is so acutely out of order?

It looks like growth, and not the kind you see in the mirror after months of dedicated gym sessions. It’s the messy kind of growth that is akin to cleaning out your kitchen pantry, or your storage area. It’s a lot of ground work before there is progress. It’s being surrounded by all the stuff and excuses you stuck into corners or stacked up to the ceiling and wondering why you kept it, how to sort it, whether to keep it, where to put it now. Balance now is learning how to get the same feelings I got inside of the gym with all of you, outside of the gym, on my own. It is a little lonely, and a little scary, and like most new and frightening things, challenging.

To be in balance, does not mean to be in comfort, it means “an even distribution allowing someone to remain upright and steady in one place for a while” while Perfection means “the condition of being free from all flaws or defects.” If you’ve ever taken Centergy, or yoga, you know that balance requires effort, dedication, patience. Similarly, self care requires the same and so I strive for balance and not perfection. For balance allows us to sway, adjust and come back to center, balance is about showing yourself compassion.

About two weeks ago, after multiple doors were slammed before 9 am by multiple people in my house, I looked at my husband, said “I am going to go lay in a ditch now, goodbye” and tapped out. (Look, my 11 year old daughter comes by her dramatics honestly, okay?) For weeks I had been parenting from a space of emotional-self-starvation, and now I was facing the consequences of my actions. And as dramatic as my soap opera proclamation might have been I felt that sentence in my core.

We’ve all seen the catchy poster about putting on your own oxygen mask first or about being unable to serve from an empty plate, and that hasn’t changed just because everything else has. We are wearing infinitely more hats than we are accustomed too, often we are walking around with a hat-stack piled on our heads at any given moment, jerking from parent to employee to caregiver to chef, to IT professional to therapist and back again. You may not even realize the relief you will feel to take off your hats, and to spend some time checking in with yourself.

Balance is going to look different for every person reading this, but for me right now, it looks like making sure I get my workout early in the day. It no longer solely revolves around hitting the classes I enjoy the most, or with the participants I miss, or the instructors I admire. Though all those things ring painfully true. I enjoy and I miss and I admire, but I also know this is temporary and necessary so I can go back to those classes and people as whole as possible when this is over. Right now, balance is about ensuring that I start the day off the way I want the day to progress, with all the good intentions I can give it. It means closing my Apple Watch rings, which gives me a personal sense of accomplishment and incentive to stay the course. Balance means being flexible in the how of my workout, but rigid in the if.

It means some days I do Group Blast, and some days Group Power, and some days I have a dance party to Taylor Swift in the kitchen with my kids, and some days I tap out and take myself on a parental Time Out walk on the trails of Frick Park. But it always means honoring where I am at, and not forcing a run when I want to lift weights, or demanding that I serve my kids first by dancing, when I need solitude.

Interested in finding out more about Balance? We offer Group Centergy and a variety of Yoga classes for all abilities on our #JCCPGHVirtual website, click below to check out our full schedule. Please feel free to invite a friend or two and take the class together-but-apart.   JCC LIVE Class Schedule

May 1, 2020

“And wouldn’t it be fun to bring the blog back? We could call it Virtually Fit…”

The idea is to play off of the virtual fitness programs the JCC has been running since the world flipped on its ear and everything changed. I’m being asked if I’d like to write about fitness again. This time three years in, no longer the girl who runs out of classes, but the one considering the cost benefit ratio of breaking into a gym (for the record, it is a very bad ratio, 0/10 would recommend).

definition: almost or nearly as described, but not completely.

definition: in good health, especially because of regular physical exercise.

“Yes.” I replied simply. “Yes. I want to bring the blog back.”
Because almost but not completely was a space I could fill.

“Do you think anyone feels completely fit right now? It’s the perfect name, really.” I’m talking to a friend, tentatively trying to sell the idea to her.

Post dinner that night I sat cross legged on the front porch, the phone cradled between my shoulder and ear. Moments earlier, the kids had opened their collective gaping maws, inhaled their dinners, hurriedly scraped their plates and sling-shotted them in the general direction of the dishwasher, leaving me alone for the first time since I creaked my eyes open that morning.

“But don’t you want to inspire everyone at home? Isn’t that what the instructors are doing? Isn’t that the point of the virtual classes? ” she asked me.
“I’m aiming for authenticity, not inspiration” I told her. “I want people to feel seen in their struggle.” She laughed, uncomfortable.

What makes struggling, embarrassing? At what point do we adapt the idea that our journeys need to be a line graph with a straight shot to success, and never a misstep, valley or setback?
Why do we shy away from talking about when it is hard, instead of sharing in the collective grief that comes with upending everything familiar?

I think the JCC Fitness team (and all the departments associated) did a remarkable job in a frightening, turbulent time, to gather its people to a safe space, albeit virtually, and continue doing what it does best; servicing the health and wellness needs of the community. It is virtually everything we had prior to the shutdown, almost, but not completely. I miss the gym, but I long for my people there. You are what is missing for me, and you are not a replaceable commodity. I cannot order sets of you online, like weights, or download free trials of you, like Mossa Move, and while I see you for a few minutes before class, neatly packed into your little black boxes, virtually is not always enough for me, realistically.

And you don’t have to pretend that it is.

I found myself trying to tamp down my sad feelings by saying ‘It could be worse’ or ‘At least I have this’, both dangerous slopes to start down. The more I tried to talk myself out of feeling sad, the more despondent I felt myself becoming. What was wrong with me, that it wasn’t enough to have this virtual platform, and the Amazon delivered weights, and the free workouts right in my living room? But I couldn’t talk myself out of my feelings, so I started to avoid the things that made me feel sad, the things I missed. You can probably guess how that went.

I want to shout it loud for the people in the back:
You have a right to feel your feelings.

When I acknowledged my sad feelings, my angry feelings, my scared feelings (I miss my friends, this sucks, it’s unfair, am I going to get fat, am I going to forget the habit of being healthy?), those feelings began to calm down. Denying the discomfort didn’t help, but sitting with it did.

This is not easy, and I am not going to inspire you to feel like we’ve crested the top and it’s smooth sailing from here. I’m going to tell you that you have the right to feel your feelings. You have the right to be seen in your struggle. You don’t have to win every single day, you just have to arrive at the end of it.

For me, right now that looks like intentionally choosing how I move my body that day. Some days it means I set up for class and I am 100% in, and some days it means I sign on just to see your faces, and I listen to our instructors cue while I do a modified workout that feels doable for me. Sometimes it means I had planned to do a class in the evening but the elusive Pittsburgh sun peaked out so I go for a run. Sometimes the run is instead of the class, sometimes it’s in addition. My point is, intuitive thinking is my comfort zone right now. I do what feels good, because things are hard, but I also do what I need to do, because I know not doing, only makes this harder.

I miss you guys, if I haven’t gotten that point across. You are my absolutely favorite part of the JCC. You make it what it is, and I long for when we can chat (in person) before a class, or go for a coffee afterwards. Until then, I will honor the hard days, and I will relish the good ones, virtually, and realistically.

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