At the age of twelve, I injured my back in classical ballet. I rested for a week or two and went back to my six-day-a-week dance schedule as if everything was fine. I repeated this annually until age 17 and my back was a mess. I attended physical therapy for seven months with no relief until I was cut off by my insurance company, which said I had used my annual limit.
I was in a lot of pain, taking ibuprofen more days than not, not exercising (or even taking walks) and pretty depressed, to say the least. I felt pretty lost, as did my mother, and luckily for me, a friend of hers said, “you have to try Pilates. Go see Andrea Parker.”
Andrea owned a small studio in my hometown of Gainesville, Fla., in the late 1990s, a time that many people (including me) had never heard of the modality. Andrea had many techniques under her belt besides pilates, and her skill and knowledge were profound. After just two months of seeing her regularly, I was out of pain and back in dance class. I was astounded.
One of the most valuable things I learned from that time was actually how little awareness I had had of my body previous to seeing her. Despite my ability to turn, leap, and dance on my toes with grace and seemingly strong technique, I had often been recruiting all the wrong muscles — “cheating,” you could call it — and my spine had finally screamed so loudly that I had to listen.
I tell this story because it instilled in me my belief in the idea that we all should feel good within our bodies and enjoy exercise in some form. From the thickness of pain to the final reconnection to my body and the joy of movement and wellness, I learned and was so humbled by how affected we are by this relationship we have within ourselves. So many of us become disconnected for a million legitimate reasons, and when we lose this awareness of our primal self, it takes a toll.
There are, of course, countless studies that have shown the importance of exercise for our mental state, being as or more effective than anti-depressants when dealing with depression; helping combat mental decline with aging; as well as fighting off our susceptibility to certain diseases.
It is interesting that in some ways, we always need to prove the “why” aspect — as in, why should we need to exercise to be healthy? We are animals; we are designed for movement. I believe that in our instinctual, deepest selves, we crave to feel good in our bodies, to feel the internal satisfaction of doing what physically challenges us.
It is not just the desire for grunt labor or forward momentum. We also bask in the glory of the nuanced movements, the artistry and grace of the human form. Consider the precision of a trail runner dodging roots and rocks; the joy of scoring a goal on a soccer field; the deep breath that accompanies the view at the top of a mountain you have climbed; the harvest of vegetables in a well-maintained garden; a walk with a two-year-old whose eyes are wide with wonder.
I also believe that we need support in this process, whether recovering from chronic pain or needing to build strength with the help of someone knowledgeable. The sense of internal relief when you feel met by a practitioner is unexplainable but also tangible within our sensing selves.
I often hear exercise described as a chore, almost a burden. Whenever I do get the chance to work with people of this persuasion, I almost always find that they have simply been disconnected from their bodies, from their awareness of this powerful sense of feeling. Perhaps they were not allowed to be connected to their body at some point, whether due to injury, pain, cultural or socioeconomic pressures, time constraints, or striving to “push” the body instead of listening to the times when help or care is needed. The support from practitioners in the realms of acupuncture, massage, etc, are so wonderful, they can help us regain comfort in our bodies which paves the way for ease, the desire to be more alive. Then exercise can be a gift — it feels good; we don’t have to push ourselves to crazy limits or fatigue and injury.
The beauty of Vashon is known and loved by its community; we have nature and quietude at our fingertips at all times — it is the reason many of us chose to live out here. I feel that one of the secrets to enjoying life out here is getting outside into the glory of the misty forest on a cool morning or to delight in the view of Mount Rainier on a walk at Point Robinson. Along with that, I also love the feeling of working my muscles in slow, precise repetition with pilates or weightlifting, the meditation offered in a yoga or tai chi class and the energy of a dance class. I know that if we can feel at ease in our bodies, strong and healthy in our bodies, we feel a sense of contentment in our beings. We are animals, designed to move, designed to feel, designed for the freedom of ease, strength and grace.
Hannah Kogan and her husband, Levin Pugsley, own Studio Lux, which offers pilates, massage, Ortho-Bionomy and Kung Fu. Their business appears in the 2020 Health & Wellness Guide, available as an insert in this edition of The Beachcomber.