When I was a sophomore in college, I had a professor who, on the first day of school, took the class outside for a friendly game of tag. Home base was a large oak tree situated at the far corner of an open courtyard. I eyeballed it from beneath the steps of a nearby building. I skulked and schemed and, when I saw an opening, took off running: chest out, chin up, legs pumping like my life depended on it. I was going to make it home untagged even if it took every ounce of strength I had. And I did, mission accomplished.
When we got back to the classroom, the prof informed us that the game had been a ruse, a social experiment to expose the way we each approached our lives as a whole. Some of us sauntered carelessly out in open daylight; some dashed out recklessly, intent on being the first to make it home; others hung back until time was called, never making it at all, afraid to make a move.
“Sarah, over here, clearly thinks too much,” he told the class, “and expends way too much energy trying to get where she’s going — probably out of a fear of failure.”
I was enraged. Stupid, ex-hippy wash-up. What did he know anyway?
It was manipulative perhaps, but also spot on. Ten years later, I looked around and realized that my entire young adult life had been expended in pretty much exactly that way. In particular, my relationship with my body was a never-ending series of tactics designed to “manage” my weight in one way or another. A low-frequency hum of weight loss ambition and inadequacy developed in the back of my mind. I would ruminate and then leap, hard and fast, usually ending up a few pounds heavier than where I started.
I’m a personal trainer now, but the bulk of my work is not about sets and reps. It’s about helping my clients shape bodies that serve their lives and steering them away from the tired old trap of “no pain, no gain.”
Everybody seems hell-bent on something or other . . . losing 20 pounds, squeezing into a wedding dress, or gaining the attention of an inattentive, prospective lover. We’re at battle, continually trying to command our bodies and minds into submission, but neither wants to cooperate. The weight remains, and so it goes.
The way we’re pursuing health and fitness is backwards. Bodies are best when utilized, not conquered. Wellness — the only kind that matters, the only kind that sticks around — grows out of pleasure, passion. Anything we’re doing in the name of fitness that makes us resentful or bored is a waste of time. Wellness should feel good.
Runners get off on running. Yogis get off on chaturanga. Most people who truly eat well and take care of their bodies — whatever weight they might be — get off on it someway-somehow. They don’t tend to despise every living, breathing moment of it. So maybe the rest of us should stop strong-arming ourselves into doing things we hate; falling in lock step with diets and fitness routines that make us miserable; vowing allegiance to the latest and greatest only to have it fall away, replaced by another ill-fated plan or no plan at all.
East Nashvillians have been told a time or two that we are a community of provocateurs, activists for our cause. We strive to live lightly in old houses with dirt basements and low-hanging eves. We want a good time. We want the freedom to pursue our work and build our families the way we see fit . . . friends, pets, lovers, kids and neighbors. There is no reason for that love of life and independence of spirit to fall away when it comes to our bodies.
Bubbling up from under this cauldron of liveand- let-live is a feisty army of small business owners, healthcare renegades driven by a uniting principle that pursuing health should be a source of pleasure, not pain.
When we enjoy our bodies more, we treat them differently. When we’re no longer in pain, when strength multiplies, cravings subside and digestion runs smooth, life feels better. And when life feels better, there’s no need to medicate with the customary crutches we use to prop ourselves up. Making healthy decisions becomes infinitely easier.
This past fall I went in search of local resources for my clients — and for myself — and was astonished by the array of options I found, fresh modalities in addition to tried-and-true, older ones modified for a more holistic aim.
These neighborhood businesses are making health and fitness accessible for anyone who wants them, no matter the size of our backsides or bank accounts. They are offering new ways to access and awaken our bodies. The resources are there. Looking and feeling better this coming year is a matter of changing what you’re going after, finding what works for you and doing more of it, as often as you can.
YUMMY in Your TUMMY
I began my search for wellness at the chocolate shop. Before I can expect my clients to commit to any kind of fitness plan, I have to make sure they’re eating right, and in my humble opinion, eating right must include the holy grail of decadence, fine chocolate.
We all know that OLIVE AND SINCLAIR has brought incredible bean-to-bar chocolate to our neighborhood along with the tranquilizing scent of roasting cacao beans on the open breeze, but I had heard tell of a one-woman chocolate maker at the Shoppes on Fatherland who specializes in single-serve treats adorned with intricate imagery.
I stopped by CHOCOLATE FX unannounced and discovered Andrea Smith with the white sleeves of her chef’s coat rolled up, intently bent over her work. She was too far-gone into her delicate chocolate-making ritual to communicate adequately with a regular human such as myself. She stumbled over her words, intriguingly awkward in her single-mindedness. The display cases were filled with tiny works of art, candy images of skulls and monsters with flavors like ghost pepper, but she showed a softer side too, sending me out the door with smooth raspberry dark chocolate and vanilla caramel.
People such as this are the ones who can free us from the misery so often associated with the pursuit of weight loss. If we know everyday, during every small decision we make, that a shot of exquisite poison is waiting for us at the end of the day, lesser temptations shrink in comparison. A reliable, decadent ritual is the best way I know to reduce the heavy toll of countless mediocre substitutes.
Around the corner from Chocolate FX, I spent some time at HIGH GARDEN TEA SHOP with owners Leah and Joel Larabell as we steeped in the aroma of hundreds of loose-leaf teas and herbal remedies. The sheer size of the selection might be overwhelming if not for the steady hand of the staff who are infinitely patient and willing to help with whatever ails you: from insomnia to nausea, immune support to burnedout vocal chords. These people are soul soothers, at the ready with herbal remedies and a warm place to decompress.
Across the street, AMOT offers an upscale, fully realized, gluten-free menu with beer and wine. As a celiac-sufferer, I can tell you that their arrival is something resembling nirvana for those of us with gluten intolerance. They assured me that their French toast should not be considered health food, but I beg to differ. If I can share a treat with my three-year-old son without a second thought and we find ourselves battling over the last few bites, it’s a win for his body and mine.
Beyond that, the neighborhood has sprung two new juice bars, LYNNE LORRAINE’S and THE POST. We have THE WILD COW, KHAN’S BAKERY, and MY VEGGIE CHEF for vegan fare, ITALIA for vegan and gluten-free pizza, and countless locally-sourced, farm-to-table restaurants like LOCKELAND TABLE, SILLY GOOSE, EASTLAND CAFÉ, RUMOURS, MARGOT, HOLLAND HOUSE . . . and the list goes on. Outdoors, from May through October, we can go in search of sustenance and inspiration at the EAST NASHVILLE FARMER’S MARKET every Wednesday afternoon.
At the center of it all is our beloved TURNIP TRUCK, which will be expanding this year to a new space on Woodland and 7th Street. With four-times the square footage of their current home, they’ll make room for a deli, bakery, salad/hot food bar, a café, and a learning space for cooking classes.
If you’re trying to lose weight, don’t be afraid of the food you love. If it’s real and whole and you’re not eating mindlessly, the food isn’t the problem. The issue is portion size. If you stop eating like it’s your last chance at happiness and know there are more yummies coming tomorrow, you’ll be a lot less likely to eat too much. Eat what you want. . . just less of it, and try not to get it out of a bag or a box. Consider making one new, healthy recipe per week, or if you’re not much of a cook, come stand with me outside the construction site that will be Turnip Truck’s new location. We can salivate as we wait for the hot bar to start steaming.
If you’ve never had the pleasure of witnessing “prancercize,” please go to YouTube and look it up. It will make your day and open your mind to a new definition of “exercise.”
Once your body is well fed, move it. Find something you enjoy that involves moving from the desk chair or couch out the door. Stretch, lift, or prance. Try something new, and see if it feels good. If it doesn’t, don’t bother with it again, but keep searching for something else until you find the thing that does feel good. And then do more of that. There are options for joiners and loners alike, muscle-heads and walkers. I promise it feels better to move than to be static and stiff. Just figure out what you like.
I go to KALI YUGA for yoga class once a week like religion. To be honest, I’m a little churchy about it. It’s one, uncompromising hour of my week that reliably makes me better. Everything stops. Beyond that, I lift weights here and there and haunt the walking trails of Shelby Park almost daily. It’s all I need. My own personal fitness is about feeling good, not killing myself.
Clients come to me for personalized workouts that cater directly to their needs. My gym is a place they can come in the full glory of their own mess. Tears, laughter, muffin top, and flatulence . . . it’s all welcome in my little enclave, but that kind of focused, one-on-one environment doesn’t work for everybody. I wanted to find places they could go for a more communal experience, where they would feel welcome, no matter their size or physical challenges.
When I met Anna Guest-Jelley, owner and founder of CURVY YOGA, I found a soul sister. She has created a “yogaverse” where every size and shape is not only welcomed but also celebrated. Her classes and teacher training reach far and wide online, filling a cavernous hole in the traditionally skinny-white-girl world of yoga, and this past September she opened her first brick and mortar location on 11th Street near Five Points. She is gentle, playful, and can teach you how to prevent “boob-strangle” while in down dog. Her playlist at the first class I attended included, among others: Otis Redding, Bob Dylan, Alanis Morissette, Pharrell Williams, Gillian Welsh, and Airstream (which I mistook for Enigma circa 1990). In her own words, “Happiness doesn’t have a size.” Go there for a totally non-threatening yoga experience.
If, on the other hand, you prefer a dance party and are bored to tears of standard fitness classes, head up Porter Road to SERENITE, a new exercise studio behind The Family Wash with three hybrid classes I had never heard of before. The first is a gentle hula hoop based class; the second focuses on balance and form, springing from the Barre tradition (but without the barre); the third marries hip-hop and yoga (what?!) for a high-intensity, low-impact workout. I haven’t experienced the classes for myself but am very curious to check them out. The first week of classes are free for the month of January.
If you want to bulk up, hit GYM 5. If you want a challenge, CLIMB. If you want a family-friendly, all-in-one facility, sign up at MARGARET MADDOX YMCA or the extremely affordable EAST PARK COMMUNITY CENTER. If you want to pirouette or tippity tap, go to DANCE EAST. If you like to sweat, try HOT YOGA. If you’re a runner, chase down the EAST NASTIES. And if you walk or bike (try EASTSIDE CYCLES if you’re in a buying mood, and NASHVILLE B CYCLES are always handy in a pinch), well. . . we’re blessed to live in hilly neighborhoods from Inglewood to Lockeland Springs, dotted with adorable and historic homes, big and small, and SHELBY PARK is open to anybody with legs or wheels mobile enough to get there. The park is more welcoming every year with new paths and sculptures, baseball diamonds and open fields. It’s free and available for anybody in need of fresh air.
BACK to BASICS
Once upon a time, in order to get any kind of medical care, Eastsiders had to make their way over the river or go to a doc in the box at Walgreens or CVS. No more.
Dr. Rozmond Lewis, MD and Mimi Gerber, FNP opened EAST NASHVILLE FAMILY MEDICINE last year across the street from East Park. It’s a full-service, community- based clinic that provides primary care for whole families: newborns to grandparents. They’re open seven days a week and have a nutritionist, psychologist, exercise physiologist, and doula on-site. Appointments are best, but Mimi takes drop-in patients as well.
In Inglewood at Riverside Village, COLE FAMILY PRACTICE EAST offers similar primary care services plus certified Nurse-Midwives and full prenatal care. There is no physician on staff and they don’t take walk-ins, but the nurse practitioners can handle most basic care needs.
It’s a trip to the doctor. Not glamorous, but also not a bad idea to have an on-going relationship with a caretaker who knows you and your issues. Now that we’ve all survived the mind-numbing process of open enrollment for health insurance, what do you say we go use it? Preventative annual exams are free under all Marketplace plans, and most private plans are free or require just a minimal co-pay. Once a year, why not?
When you’re done with that and need your meds or if you’re in search of supplements or a little free nutritional advice, RIVERSIDE VILLAGE PHARMACY can help you out. They’ll fill your prescriptions and have them delivered to your front door for free. You can even have old scripts transferred from another pharmacy with a simple phone call. Amanda Gilbert is their in-house nutritionist/social media maven. She’s available to talk with you about your diet or what supplements may or may not be helpful. They also have bulk, organic body products (cheaper, less plastic) and winter gloves with rubber fingertips so you can cruise your smart phone in the cold. It’s easy access: pills, prevention, and primping. What’s not to like?
FREE Your CHI
The last group of practitioners I visited was the most intriguing of the bunch.
I was a little queasy heading into EAST NASHVILLE COMMUNITY ACUPUNCTURE. The whole needle thing didn’t sit well with me. I tried it years ago with students at an acupuncture school in New York City. Let’s just say acupuncture-in-training is maybe not the best plan. I stayed away from it for a long time, but over the past ten years, the more I witnessed and experienced the profound impact of massage and Reiki, the more curious I became about acupuncture.
If you don’t believe your energy needs balancing, consider that nerves, muscles, and connective tissues run throughout your body, and acupuncture is a way to stimulate them to help them work together more effectively. If you have a nagging issue that western medicine can’t seem to fix, acupuncture might help.
ENCA is a community-based model. You pay what you can from $15-35 per visit. The first time, they meet with you in private to discuss any difficulties you might have from digestion to back pain to thyroid imbalance. After that, they tuck you into a snuggly recliner in a large, dark room with vibey, peaceful tunes and a bunch of other people lost in their own, private dreams. Most fall asleep, and you can stay for as little as thirty minutes or as long as you like.
Best of all, there are a bunch of old folks drinking free tea in the waiting room, having social hour with their acupuncture. Apparently, the word has gotten out to the older and wiser among us that this ancient technique can heal what ails you. As Jolie Holland wrote in her song, “Old Fashioned Morphine,” “If it’s good enough for my Grandpa, it’s good enough for me.”
If the community thing freaks you out and you prefer a more intimate acupuncture experience, go see KAREN CRAVEN in Riverside Village. Her private treatments are more expensive than ENCA, but the personalized attention you get may be well worth it. Both methods are valuable in their own ways. Karen is wide open, knowledgeable, simultaneously non-judgmental and fearlessly honest about what she sees when she looks at you. Her clinic is beautiful and calming, and she takes whatever time is needed to get to know her patients. She specializes in allergy and pain elimination and knows first hand the difference it can make. As Karen puts it, this is her “second half of life career” which she came to after being treated with acupuncture and overcoming life-long, debilitating food allergies. She also uses herbal medicine, cupping, and NAET allergy treatments. I could have talked with her all day.
Massage is the last, most obvious, and most enjoyable treatment available. Sometimes we just need to let somebody else have a go at our bodies. Massage may cost a pretty penny, but it matters. If you can swing it, it’s worth every dime. GRETCHEN RAUB GRAGG, LMT is upstairs waiting for you at Curvy Yoga. TYRUS ARTHUR, LMT is on Fatherland and 11th, KATHLEEN CAMPBELL-SMITH, LMT is on Porter Road at MASSAGE EAST, JILLIAN REED in on Gartland at MUSIC CITY HEALING ARTS and ISAAC GUNN, LMT will come to your house and carry your troubles away. Once a month if you can, or even once a year, let them move some fresh blood through your muscles and ease your pain. Make it a ritual. Give yourself an excuse. Do it for your birthday.
Our bodies and minds can’t be separated. They work in tandem. When I’m feeling a little nuts, the worst thing I can do is get in my head about it. It’s better to change my physical alignment, take action from the outside in. If I can relocate my body; move it, poke or prod it along somehow; get a little sunshine and air, things get better.
So this year, instead of making feeble resolutions, what if we spend the winter soothing our minds, easing our pain, and dragging our friends along with us? What if, simply, we do more things we enjoy that also happen to nourish us or somebody else?
Pain and heaviness don’t have to be the status quo. They happen, of course, but why not do everything in our power to be pain-free and light on our feet more often than not? This community has stepped up to offer every resource we might need. Food doesn’t have to be a battleground, and exercise doesn’t have to hurt. Go in search of pleasure over pain.
Start wherever you can, however you can — but start somewhere and keep going.