So when she asked me to be a guest blogger this week, I was quite honored, especially since I hardly find time to write on my own blog anymore. Sitting down and working on this post gave me a renewed appreciation for how much work goes into a blog like this one - especially on top of kids, marriage, household maintenance, and sometimes a career as well. So hats off to all you bloggers who pull this off on a regular basis! Bear with me, I'm a little rusty, and thanks for asking, Jozet - this was a lot of fun!
As the leader and educator of a tribe of young male Savages, I have come to understand that regular physical exercise is absolutely essential for a healthy body, mind and spirit.
This is especially true when the Savages themselves are the ones exercising, and not I – I personally abhor physical exertion of any type. The health benefits do extend to me, however, because a) the boys are out of my hair for a while and b) they come back depleted of some of the energy they usually expend on annoying me.
(As an aside, a wise fellow homeschooler once suggested that the best parenting advice she got was from the Dog Whisperer.
“That’s for dogs,” I pointed out, in case she hadn’t been paying close attention to the show.
“I know that. But it works for children too. His method is exercise first, then teaching, then praise and affection. If you wear them out with tons of exercise, they are more receptive to the teaching, and then you lavish them with love and attention.” When I thought about it, I realized she was right.)
So Savageman and I try to provide the members of our tribe with sports and activities all year round. In the fall they play soccer or football, winter is for basketball, and “spring” is just another word for “baseball season.” We have memberships to the YMCA and our community swimming pool, so there is always somewhere to swim. And we are surrounded by beautiful state parks and can easily access the Appalachian Trail, so the Savages are experienced hikers.
And then there’s me. Did I mention that I abhor physical exertion? This is true. However, I abhor back pain even more, so a few years ago, I started taking a Yoga class. It is the only form of exercise I have stuck with for longer than five minutes, because it really has done wonders for my back. It is also kind of cool to know that I can twist my once clumsy, inflexible body into a pretzel now if I want to.
By the way, in case you’ve conjured in your mind an image of someone serenely sitting in the lotus position chanting Om – that’s not the class I take. Maybe that one’s offered down the street or at the YMCA – the one people describe as being “relaxing.”
The Yoga studio to which I belong specializes in Ashtanga Yoga – a.k.a. “Power Yoga.” It is a grueling 80 minutes of stretching muscles you didn’t know you had, holding yourself in positions that you were not designed to assume, until those same muscles are visibly shaking and you feel like they're going to snap. All this is followed by 10 minutes of what is aptly dubbed the “corpse” pose – which is the only relaxing part – but I wouldn’t know because I immediately fall asleep.
It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done with my body – I’m including natural childbirth here – and I firmly believe that it is the best thing I’ve ever done for my body. It has also helped to discipline my mind. I can face adversity by calmly tuning into my breath and entering a state of deep relaxation in which I can think clearly and respond to any situation with peace and nonviolence.
In theory, anyway.
So it would only make sense that I would want to share my enthusiasm for Ashtanga Yoga with my young tribe – who were still in my hair and still full of energy despite all the sports, swimming and hiking. “Yoga will help them develop strength and flexibility, it will discipline their minds and help their concentration,” I explained to Savageman. “Best of all, if they are as exhausted as I am after a session of this, they will peacefully do what we want,” I reasoned, “…and stop fighting so much.”
They, of course, must have sensed that this would be healthy for them and, as if it were peas or Brussels sprouts, would have none of it. I think their exact words were something along the lines of, “What is this crap?”
Back to the drawing board.
It was about this time that friends of ours began taking martial arts classes at a local Dojang of excellent repute. For months, I listened to stories of how well their kids were progressing, how it had helped their strength, their flexibility, their concentration, how it wore them out….
(Can you tell where this is headed?)
We went along to check it out. We were just going to watch our friends’ class, but a helpful and friendly assistant instructor offered to work with my young Savages in the back of the room and show them a few moves during the class.
He showed them how to kick. How to punch. How to take someone by the wrist and twist it in such a way that the person would fall down in pain, then how to shout loudly while delivering a punch to his now defenseless body.
All the while, I’m looking over at my friend, the pacifist who doesn’t even have television in her home, wondering how she could let her innocent homeschooled children be exposed to such violence.
Not to mention the fact that I’d spent the last 11 years trying desperately to teach children NOT to hit, punch, kick - or shout loudly, for that matter. Now I was supposed to pay a gazillion dollars a month to have a guy in pajamas undo all that? Not likely.
But of course, when the class was over, they came running up to me, happier than I’d seen them – well, ever. “Can we do it? Can we? Can we?”
“I don’t know…”
“C'mon Mom! It’s awesome!” said the 11 year old, probably visualizing the world domination he will be capable of once he’s earned his black belt.
“Pleeeeeeze? I loved it!” said the 8 year old, probably thinking of how many middle child issues could be easily negotiated by implementing the techniques he had just learned.
The 4 year old didn’t say anything because you have to be 5 to take the class, but I think he was enjoying watching his two older brothers beat up on each other in such a new and creative way and was hoping to pick up some tips.
Before I knew it, I was signing papers, measuring them each for a gi, and turning over my credit card while they practiced kicking, punching, and flipping each other on the mat. As I was filling out the paperwork, I asked the office manager, “Won’t this make them fight with each other more? I mean, I’ve been trying to teach them not to kick and punch each other…” Or shout loudly, I added in my head.
“If they’re brothers they’re probably already fighting with each other,” she said. “This will even the playing field a bit.” Great. “Seriously,” she added, “martial arts really helps their self-control. I think you’ll be pleased.”
Was she right? Of course she was. I am happy to say, a year and 3 belt levels later, they are still with it. Do they still fight? Of course they do. But it seems to be better, not worse, since they've been taking the classes. And I can't say enough about the benefits we've seen - self confidence, cardio fitness, core strength, and yes, self control, to name a few. Best of all, when class is over, they are exhausted!
The littlest Savage is old enough to join now, and he signed up today.
As for me, I just went back to Yoga this weekend after a brief hiatus. Missing a few weeks really reminds me of how important it is to stick with it. My back starts to hurt again, my posture suffers, my hamstrings tighten. I could practice on my own at home, but it's just not the same without the instructor, the music, the freedom from distractions, and most importantly, the social pressure not to give up and go have a dish of ice cream halfway through the series.
And Savageman? By nature, he is a solitary creature and does neither Yoga, martial arts nor any exercise remotely involving the company of other people. Three days per week, without fail, he runs on a treadmill at the Y. He’s done this for 10 years now.
I guess the point is, people are more likely to lead an active lifestyle if they choose activities they enjoy and that suit their interests and temperament. Given that, it should have been obvious from the start that my young Savages would enjoy an activity where they got to hit and kick each other, despite my efforts to guide them toward peace and harmony.
Once again, my children have provided me with an opportunity to practice being the water, not the rock…