Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Bar Method

I was a chubby baby, a plump kid, and then a thin adolescent for about 15 minutes - until I got hungry. As I evolved into a young woman, I grew into an overweight adult. Through the years, I managed to lose some weight here and there, but always gained it back thanks to gross amounts of misinformation garnered from worthless magazines, a complete lack of self control around anything white and/or sweet, a weird shame/guilt complex, and a sluggish meat and potatoes Irish metabolism. Oh and a little bit of closet eating. I had just started to shift my focus to accepting the body I was apparently stuck with and was reaching for the white flag when my best friend suggested we try a new kind of workout class together. She had heard it was a little painful, but required no athleticism and was very effective. “Self-inflicted torture for klutzes?” I thought, “I’m in!”

By this point, I had tried everything from the classic cardio and weight training combo to boot camps, kick boxing, spinning, Tae Bo, yoga, swimming, group aerobics, walking, hiking, and combinations of some or all of the aforementioned. I had sweat and wheezed and stumbled my way through every form of exercise I could manage and read countless books about nutrition, diet, metabolism, fitness and body image issues. I was uncomfortable enough often enough to approach slimming down from a million different angles between the age of 11 and 26. And everything I tried, I tried damn hard. (Or so I thought.)

We went to our first Bar Method class in June of 2008 and although it felt terribly unnatural to force my body into graceful ballet positions and thrust my hips at the girl in front of me like I was in a bad 80’s MTV video, there were so many other things about the class that intrigued me and made me feel comfortable enough to come back and give it another go. I recognized a few of the positions and stretches from yoga and Pilates and had long admired the refined art of ballet – but the way the class flowed, the constant movement and quick pace, the application of concepts from the aforementioned, were all entirely unique and certainly new to me. The room was full of women of all shapes and sizes and ages, each of them boasted a different level of experience. Together they painted a picture of the potential stages of corporal transformation if the Bar Method became a practice, and their presence made newcomers, regulars and experts alike feel at ease. The teacher, who was almost irritatingly beautiful, her form perfectly long and lean and compact, delivered constant reassurance and gently provided constructive criticism throughout the hour class. As she led us through sets of lifting, pushups, planks, dips and calf raises I looked at my girlfriend and mouthed, “What did we get ourselves into?” In between sets of thigh work, I started peering over at the door longingly.

We went through every major muscle group and fatigued it to the point of shaking, burning and sometimes collapse, with painfully controlled movements and endless tiny pulses in first and second position and all sorts of positions I had never seen. Just when we thought it was over, the teacher, whose perfect butt was our only inspiration at that point, guided us into seat work. I wanted to slap the delicate features off her face and go home for some ice cream and a nap. My best friend and I rolled our eyes at each other and shook our heads in unison. Without uttering a word, we both knew the other was thinking, “She’s got to be joking.”

Within 36 hours of the 1 hour class, my entire body was surprisingly sore and countless muscles I had never worked very hard before or didn’t even know I had, were screaming. My thighs and butt ached for days and I couldn’t lift a pencil without wincing. I knew right away that anything that made you that sore had to be extremely effective. I went back a few days later, once I could put my underwear on without falling over from the pain of leaning on one leg and glut too long. I kept going back more and more frequently each week for the next two years.

I saw a difference within 3 weeks and although I feared it was just wishful thinking at first, the continued evolution from consistent practice confirmed that the transformation began almost immediately. I lost about 20 pounds of fat within 6 months of starting the class. There is no doubt in my mind that I would still be at the same weight I was in June 2008 if my best friend hadn’t brought me to that Bar Method class.

I always joked about feeling like the fat kid in gym class when faced with team sports or new physical challenges that required any coordination. What few people understood was that that sensation was less about actually feeling fat, and more about feeling weak, uncoordinated and unable to make my body do what I wanted it to do. The Bar Method has made me feel physically strong and able, and because that is something I can feel in every muscle of my body and quantify in pushups and crunches in class every week, it’s something even I can’t take away from myself. For me, that has been the most powerful and profoundly significant result. Feeling strong and confident enough to rise to new physical challenges for the first time in my life is amazing. Don’t get me wrong; the physical results are of course wonderful, but the novelty of smaller dress sizes and shorter shorts wears off quickly for someone who knows little about maintaining positive body image. But the novelty of feeling like the strong, determined, tough girl in gym class won’t ever wear off.

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