Exercise and Unicorns: Conquering the Impossible

By Kellee Bryan

Earlier this week, Russell wrote a post about the lessons he's learned from an inspirational young man with cerebral palsy. One of those lessons is to believe in the impossible. "If you can imagine it, you can do it," he wrote. "It takes drive and determination, but anything is possible."

And there it is. That cheery sentiment of the eternal optimist: anything is possible.

As a child, I would always respond to that claim with a defiant challenge. Not anything is possible, I would insist. What if I wanted to fly? What if I wanted to be invisible? What if I wanted to morph into a purple polka-dotted unicorn? And then I would give myself a congratulatory pat on the back, certain that I'd bested yet another grown up.

I'm ashamed to admit that when I read through the lessons in Russell's post, I reflexively thought to myself, "Hmph. What if I wanted to be invisible?" That's right. Take THAT, Russell. Silly grown up.

Oy. Old habits die hard.

I promptly decided it was time to beat my habitually contrary internal 8-year-old into submission, and believe in the impossible like any proper Lewis Carroll fan would.
"Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."
–The White Queen, Through the Looking Glass
My impossible thing? Finding time for a structured work-out in my already over-capacity days. I've written before about ways for busy parents to "sneak" exercise into their routines, and while I make use of many of my own suggestions, I've been wanting something more. (Or, more accurately, something less. As in thigh jiggles.) But I've been putting off committing to a more structured exercise routine because I just don't have the time to squeeze one more thing in. It's impossible.

Or it was impossible, before I forcibly changed my outlook. I also changed my expectations and redefined what constituted a successful structured workout. Ideally, I'd like to be able to dedicate 1.5 hours to one of my favorite yoga or pilates classes. But maybe that's not the only way to be successful here. Maybe an hour at home with a yoga video could do the trick. Maybe 20 minutes with a pilates video is okay. Or, as it turns out, maybe even less than that will suffice.

Conquering the impossible, a four-day quest

Day One
It occurred to me that I don't have to make it all the way through an exercise video in order for it to "count." I grabbed a mat workout DVD with a normal run time of 60-minutes, and set out to complete just the first chapter: the standing leg portion.

About half-way through, my oldest son, Riley, emerged from his bedroom to find me standing at the dining room table, sweating with the effort of kicking, rotating, and contorting one leg through a series of unnatural positions in the air, and scowling at the woman on my laptop instructing me to "just breathe through it."  Amused, he observed my struggle for a few moments and then offered some helpful advice: "I don't think you're supposed to be wobbling so much. I think you're supposed to be standing still except for the leg that's in the air. That's how the lady's doing it." I considered pointing out that "the lady" was completing her leg exercises in the comfort of a controlled studio, whereas I was flailing my left leg around a rickety dining chair "ballet barre" and trying to avoid kicking the teething toddler absent-mindedly gnawing on my right knee. Instead, I saved my breath for breathing through it, but transferred my scowl from lady to son.

Day Two
I moved on to the standing ab chapter and be-bopped my way through a series of abdominal isolations while Riley did his homework and my youngest son, Avi, lobbed peas at me from his high chair. Between my barks of "stop laughing!" and "don't throw your food!" and "focus on your homework!" Riley asked why I was dancing when I was supposed to be exercising.

"You'd be surprised how hard this is on your stomach muscles," I explained. "This IS exercise. It's difficult."

"Hm," he replied doubtfully, peering over my shoulder to observe the woman dancing on screen. "Looks like she's handling it just fine."

A pea may or may not have hit him right between the eyes. It may or may not have been thrown by his baby brother.

Day Three
The third day delivered the first of two arm chapters. By now I'd grown wiser and waited for Riley to be safely out of the house before setting up again in the dining room. But a small space is still a small space, even without a heckling 10-year-old, and one over-exuberant arm swing sent a globe flying off of the buffet and into simulated orbit before landing on Avi's pudgy foot. He immediately retaliated by aggressively drooling over most of Asia and licking Antarctica with great malice.

Day Four
A second arm chapter greeted me (this one with weights!) on day four. This workout, finally, was without complication or Three Stooges worthy slapstick. Unless, of course, you count the halfway mark, at which point Avi determined he was no longer satisfied clinging to my legs and obstinately demanded that we STOP THIS EXERCISE NONSENSE RIGHT NOW! This wouldn't have been nearly as unfortunate had this particular chapter been set up in a way that gave both arms equal attention throughout. Alas, the first half of the chapter was dedicated to the left arm (which I completed) and the second half focused on the right (which I wasn't even able to start). I was completely lopsided for the remainder of the day.

Day Five and Beyond
There are two more chapters on the DVD to go. It'll be Sunday before I finish. Sure, it now takes me six days to complete what used to take me 60 minutes. Sure, there are unexpected challenges and airborne spherical hazards along the way. Still, I managed to squeeze a more structured workout into my day, something I had previously believed to be entirely impossible.

It's no purple-polka dotted unicorn, but it's damn close.

And you? Have you tackled any "impossible" goals in your life recently?

Posted on September 24, 2011 04:15 PM
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