Tending Barre

Around New Year’s, I decided to shake up my exercise routine and join a community fitness center—to access a greater variety of classes, to use the fitness equipment, to break up my work day with a workout.

Good intentions. But, to be honest, I’ve been less than diligent about going. I’ve had plenty of excuses. It’s been way too cold out. I don’t like changing in and out of exercise clothes in the middle of the day. I’m too busy.

Then there have been a few mishaps as I’ve tried to find my place—like killing my knees in a Zumba class and getting short of breath in a “Senior” exercise class. The latter experience left me mortified (can’t they call it something else?), but it was a serious workout and I arrived late, didn’t warm up enough and started feeling faint during the aerobics portion of the class. I recovered, but not without scaring my instructor. Later in the day, I received a thoughtful follow-up email from the fitness center director to be sure I was okay and to suggest a few more options.

Really, the big issue is being careful that I don’t accelerate into strenuous aerobics too quickly, which seems to trigger what my physicians suspect is stress-induced pulmonary hypertension. But it spooked me, and I wasn’t sure what to do.

Then I discovered Barre Exercise. I’ve always loved dance, and over the past ten years, I’ve taken jazz, modern and Middle Eastern belly dancing. As my feet have become more sensitive, I’ve had to cut back. It’s very hard to keep my balance on the balls of my feet as the fat pads have significantly thinned out due to scleroderma.

But this class uses a ballet barre. So I have something to grab onto.

It’s been many years since I took a basic ballet class, and I am no Pavlova. But I had forgotten how much I enjoy the form and grace of ballet movements. All the Pilates classes have paid off. I know how to align myself and engage my core. And I still remember the fundamentals—foot placement, arms, the essentials of a plié, tendu, dégagé, coupé, attitude, battement. I can’t quite hold my balance in an arabesque, but I can approximate the position.

The workout is quite intense—deceptively so, because each movement is limited and controlled. But I work up a sweat, and the cold room no longer feels cold after about 15 minutes. The pacing works, so I can keep up with the aerobics without getting short of breath. And there is plenty of stretching at the end.

Most of all, I actually feel graceful. This is the best part. My range of motion has been so constricted over the years by this disease that the fact that I can actually make a beautiful shape with my body is astonishing and wonderful. I leave the class feeling refreshed and a little more confident each week.

I still need to figure out a way to get myself to the center more often. I know I should probably do the treadmill or stationary bike to build up my aerobic endurance, even though the prospect is boring as all get-out. I’d like to find another class that I enjoy. But at least I’ve been able to tap my inner dancer, once again. Whatever my physical limitations, this is what I always return to. 

Photo Credit: quinn.anya via Compfight cc

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.

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