Auntie Pappandrea

Just read Tim’s post on food and practice, and realized I’d been thinking about my own history with food and exercise over the past weekend. Everyone is going home sick today from work, and the place is pretty much empty. So a little lunchtime blogging seems to be in order.

In keeping with the spirit of Tim’s inspirational post, I title this entry with my all-time favorite cat name.

I came to yoga with a hypersensitive awareness of my body. Though possibly not the healthiest hyper-awareness. I was a normal sized person throughout my childhood years, and it never occurred to me to alter my diet in order to alter my body. I did, at age 12, announce at the Sunday dinner table that I was going to be a Hindu from then on in, and that eating meat was now officially out of the question. This was a pretty dramatic announcement at an Irish-Italian dinner table, and, even to me, this many years later, a pretty unfathomable turn of events. I could have pointed to it as evidence of past-lives, but after 12 solid years of carnivorous Catholicism, I guess I wasn’t alternatively-educated enough to even conceptualize the possibility. My mother simply said that she never should have taught me to read. Books had rendered me a danger to myself.

When I hit my middle teens, there was another change. At that point I’d been a vegetarian for 4 years, and suddenly, at 16, I started dieting. I have no idea where the notion came from: we were out in the ‘burbs, and the whole intense skinny-celebrity thing wasn’t in vogue. In retrospect, I imagine it might have been a way for me to control what was shaping up to be (Off to college next year! I’m gonna go live in Boston!) a less stable life.

All through college I was a dieter. I am methodical and stubborn, so I am a very good dieter. What better way to separate myself from my food-obsessed Italian family than to just give it up? Of course, the giving up was a kind of obsession in itself. But it was an easy way to always look good by society’s standards, and easy enough to implement, so I carried on eating less than I really wanted to until I was into my early thirties. No big deal, just a way of life.

Cut to me in my early thirties, mother of a toddler, and suddenly starting to look…um, saggy. My brother, who was a personal trainer and gym manager, offered some words of wisdom: “You can diet forever, but you’re only gonna end up skinny and saggy. Time to lift weights!”

A new obsession was born. Hours at the gym, every day. The downside was a huge craving for protein, and the company of other gym rats, which meant a return to meat eating. I know, huh? Talk about guilt. I was eating meat for the most selfish reason of all: so I could have muscles.

The upside of the lifting habit was that I suddenly saw myself as a strong person. A really strong person. Someone who could use diet and exercise to manifest a very specific kind of body. My reading habits turned to sports nutrition, which is a fascinating field. In the dieting days of college through my thirties, I was a skinny 105-110 pound weakling. With weighlifting, cardio, and TONS of food (protein, protein and more protein, plus a daily tub of ice cream), I managed to get up to 125 pounds. I’m 5’4″, and I could squat 175 pounds. It was unbelievably liberating. Quite honestly, that realization of myself as a strong person is absolutely the key to my getting through many years as a single mom. That said, I really couldn’t keep up the pace of eating for weightlifting performance. I had friends who competed, so their wacky habits made a kind of sense. For me, it was just a crazy habit.

Fast forward to my 40s, when rock climbing entered the scene. I’d learned that I could have physical strength, now I wanted mental strength. I’d always been afraid of heights. I was suddenly laid off from a job I’d had for years, and I felt like I needed a shake-up. What better solution than to confront my fear of heights by climbing a cliff?

Rock climbing requires some strength, but too much weight is a hindrance. So it was back to the skinnier self. Easy enough to do, of course, through dieting. I was accustomed to eating for a specific kind of performance, so I just switched to an optimal rock climbing nutrition program. A lot of muscle came off, which kind of freaked me out, but the climbing was too fun. I had to pursue it.

Then there was Ashtanga (key heavenly music). I was getting used to losing muscle, so why not more?? Admittedly, I came to Ashtanga as a workout solution. I’d been looking for years for something that would combine strength training, cardio and flexibility training. It wasn’t too long, though, before practice took the place of “working out.” Recently, someone at work said they didn’t work out, and I said, “I don’t, either.” I was really surprised to hear myself say that. I had spent so many years identifying myself — to myself — as an athletic person.

And you know, my approach to Ashtanga is totally different than my approach to other pursuits. For one thing, quite unbelievably, I don’t really have any strong ideas about what comprises an Ashtanga-optimal diet (well, beyond ruling out quantities of tequila and late dinners). I don’t seem to be able to light on any rules about how to optimize my Ashtanga practice. Basically, I just practice. I’ve totally given up any dogma about diet, I don’t think too much about how I look from the outside, and to tell you the truth, I can’t remember why those issues used to feel so compelling. It was always about being smaller or bigger or stronger or lighter or whatever. Always a physical thing. A limited physical thing. It occurs to me that I’ve always been looking for something, and it’s taken decades for me to work my way through the physical “somethings” that I imagined were my “answers.” At first, I thought, “Gee, I’ve wasted so much time!” But really, it had to be done. And I’m happy I got some of it worked out in this lifetime.

But it is like a dream. Why did any of that ever matter?

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5 Responses

  1. You don’t eat no meat?

    That’s OK; I’ll make lamb.

  2. LOL! My grandmother always said she’d take the meatballs out of the sauce for my plate, and how wasn’t that vegetarian?!?!

  3. B ut I can’t take credit for that one; it’s one of our favorite lines from “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” 🙂

  4. Great film. I once took a British boyfriend to my parents’ for Christmas and I swear, it wasn’t much different 😀

  5. “My mother simply said that she never should have taught me to read. Books had rendered me a danger to myself.” – Too funny!

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