I spent the weekend in Orange, Virginia, with my friend Ellen Wessel, who co-founded Moving Comfort women’s sports clothing company back in 1977, sold it to Russell Corporation, and now works at Montpelier, the home of James Madison.
The other co-founder of Moving Comfort, Elizabeth Goeke, also lives in Orange. With her partner Jay Billie, Elizabeth bought a 1910 farmhouse on 15 bucolic acres with a barn, paddocks, gardens, and woods, and they’re converting the place to a bed and breakfast, so I visit Elizabeth and Jay too, to admire their remodeling project. The Inn at Westwood Farm is opening in early September 2007, and all of us are excited about it.
Here’s what else Ellen and I are excited about: our own strength, balance, flexibility, and aerobic capacity. Maybe that sounds selfish or vain. But our bodies are not an obsession. We don’t hate our bodies, or starve them, or cover them in shame.
In fact, we celebrate them – through movement.
This morning, Ellen and I walked three miles among farms filled with scenic green roofs and serious black cows. We chatted about James Madison and retirement plans and good books we’ve read recently (March and Quarantine.) We stopped to pick up trash (Ellen’s one-woman community service project) and listen to cicadas and admire a tree frog and laugh at two “teenage” cows as they playfully trotted down a gentle hillside.
“Want to do a yoga tape?” asked Ellen when we got home.
An hour later, she asked, “Wanna do a Pilates tape?”
An hour later, after we’d contorted and stretched and lunged until we could contort and stretch and lunge no more, we rested on our purple and red “sticky mats.”
Suddenly I started laughing. It struck me as funny that, at 56 and 51, this is what Ellen and I choose to do for fun: exercise all morning. Combined, we’ve lived as athletes for about a hundred years so far, and we’ve worked for about 60 combined years in the fitness industry, so of course we know that exercise is good for us – and for other women, men, and children. Obviously.
We know that, as Moving Comfort says so brilliantly, “A fit woman is a powerful woman.”
And we dig being healthy and powerful.
But we also exercise for fun. We exercise because we feel like it. Because Ellen has a glorious neighborhood and two DVDs she wants to share. Because walking outside and doing power yoga and Pilates feel good to us – right then and also later, like now, when I’m sitting at my computer and still feeling strong and healthy and happy.
This is what Ellen and I know that many of my friends and colleagues don’t know. It’s like a secret I try to tell them but they can’t hear me, because I’m speaking another language, the language of the body. They know the “exercise is good for you” part of the message. The media (and I) have been clear about that.
It’s the “exercise is fun” part that’s so hard to convey to people who did not grow up climbing trees, who were limited to cheerleader roles in high school, who forget (though I’m certain they did know once, when they were very young) the intrinsic pleasures of effort and extension and movement through space.
When I say, “It’s fun,” they look at me with a blank stare.
The joy of movement is not something that can be communicated in words.
It’s a physical message that can only be communicated physically, as when one person takes another by the hand and says, “Let’s ______.”
“Let’s go. Let’s swim. Let’s put on our sneakers and take a long hike along a rambling country road.”
If you know what I’m talking about, know deep in your gut and your muscles and your bones that exercise is fun, then do us all a favor and spread that message to someone who does not know.
Or spread that message to someone who has forgotten – especially if that person is you.
Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation
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