Kathy’s Testimonial

Posted by on May 26, 2016 in Blog

I wrote a testimonial after reaching my 3-year anniversary with Bar Method, but that first attempt never made the light of day for various reasons. My daughters thought it was way too long (and boring) and it needed major revisions, so I set it aside. But in the following year, my mother passed away at age 92, my 30-year-old parrot chirped his last, “I’m a duck, quack-quack!”, and my beautiful Aussie dog “Mocha” developed a horrible cancer and died way before her time. OK, I get it…we are not long for this world, so we had better make the most of the time we have (and I’d better send this now!). We Baby Boomers were born to, “Rage, rage against the dying of the light!”, and our greatest tests are coming. I firmly believe all of us who are able must push back against the infirmities of old age for as long as we possibly can, definitely for ourselves but also to honor those we love who can’t. As a mother, grandmother, biochemist, manager, and former dancer and jazz/tap teacher, I hope I can offer some insight and advice about this stage in life (age 64+), whether you asked for that or not.

My story started when my mother enrolled me in dance classes at 3 years of age. She was a former dancer/teacher and loved everything about the magic of performing. Dance was always a huge part of my life growing up in Indiana in the ‘50s and ‘60s. It was different back then…pretty, delicate, and “Hollywood,” and lacking many of the strength and athletic moves we see today, but even then ballet barre was a rigorous workout. We just suffered through it and didn’t think of it that way.

As a summer job, I started teaching dance classes during my high school and college years in Indiana, but then came marriage and graduate school and children. After moving to Washington state (Redmond) and delivering Baby Kristi in 1972, I was totally driven to find a dance studio that would take “adult” students (good grief, I was only 22!), because I just knew that was what I needed to recover my strength and wellbeing after pregnancy. Fortunately, there was one dance studio in Kirkland that was willing to take me in, although there were no other options at the time. I was thrilled to take ballet classes with teenagers—it didn’t matter! I felt like myself again in no time at all.

There are big gaps in this story (I have a LOT of years to cover), so jump ahead thirty years or so, when I was raising two beautiful daughters, enjoying my profession as an R&D Manager with a biotech company (my natural analytical side) and still teaching some tap classes at a local studio (much more difficult!). Unfortunately, I had started feeling way too pudgy to be content with my life, which was a shock. I was still active and eating a healthy diet most of the time, but that wasn’t working anymore. Loose clothes covered the weight gain on the outside, but my body didn’t know what to do with 20+ extra pounds, and it was not happy about it. Despite the fact that I was always within the “normal” range on the weight charts, whatever that is these days, this was not the same person who had danced or taught dance most of her life, loved high impact aerobics back in the day, and chased after two children, horses, dogs, cats, birds, and snakes (yes, I still have an ancient ball python that is breaking longevity records).

DSC01935I was ~50 years old when daughter Kristi dragged me into a group weight training class for the first time. It was an epiphany: if you do weight-bearing exercise, you can actually build muscle where you want it, instead of depending on those fickle fat cells to populate your chest or your buns in all the right places–sadly, that doesn’t seem to happen after puberty. I also discovered that a lot of middle age weight gain is related to muscle atrophy, and fortunately, we have quite a bit of control over that. We progressed from the group weight classes to sessions with a trainer twice a week. My 20 extra pounds dropped to 10 pounds, and I was feeling pretty fit and sassy. It was empowering!

We were beyond committed. My family joked about “Fitness Before Family,” but there was no way I would attend a family birthday party on a trainer night. I tried adding some running miles to the program, but anything over a few miles made my hip flexors tight and uncomfortable, which led to knee pain. We continued to work out hard with our trainer two days a week (a great thing) and I kept trying to run, but the scale didn’t change over the next 5 years. I was grateful to be strong at my age and maintaining my weight, but extra belly fat was always there.

During that time I remember reading some “self-help” articles with health and conditioning advice for each decade of life. There were pages of advice for the lucky age 20+, 30+, and 40+ readers. However, the “50’s and over” section was always suspiciously skimpy. The worst one was a clever little article in Prevention, telling the readers over age 50, “Learn to Love Your Menopot!” I was livid…what kind of help is that!!?? Besides wanting to strangle the author, I thought I was surely doomed to have a “pregnant” stomach for the rest of my life.

About then, daughter Kristi sent me an Evite to attend a Bar Method class with her. I remember being totally annoyed. After many years of personal trainer sessions and running several times a week, I was feeling pretty invincible, not to mention that I was done with dance classes, and I wanted a more hard-core workout. Why in the world would I want to take a ballet class with beautiful women half my age, when I am way past my prime? That sounded awful! So, I took the first class with a really bad attitude, although Bev and Maika were so nice that I couldn’t stay grumpy for too long. The class had some resemblance to my past experiences (a demanding “ballet mistress” and soft slippers/socks), but mostly it wasn’t like any ballet class I had ever taken. Usher instead of Tchaikovsky… many exercises in parallel rather than constant turnout…strength work for the upper body as well as torso and legs…incredible leg training in a position that was not damaging (despite the temporary pain). Maika was being very kind during that first class, and of course I wasn’t doing very many things with proper form. After my first class, I was intrigued, but a little ambivalent. I signed up for the first month, thinking that I would just fill in the gaps of my busy workout schedule with one or two Bar Method classes a week. That was fine for a few weeks, until I started paying attention and working harder…oh, my goodness!

After 4+ years, I am still struggling to maintain form and posture (pain–the good kind!) consistently, and my fitness goals keep evolving as I get stronger. But amazingly, the infamous “menopot” and final 10 pounds (2 pant sizes) absolutely melted away within 5 months of my first class. I’m sure it would have been 3 months, if I hadn’t dinked around at the beginning. How can that be possible, when I was really very fit for my age? I was age 60 at the time, and I didn’t get serious about Bar Method until the last 3 months of that time period, when I started to attend class 4-5 times/week. It has been so long since I worried about my weight that I have almost forgotten how life-altering it was back then–I had no clothes left, after my daughters removed my “fat” wardrobe. At first I thought this new workout was surely the missing link in my regimen, except that it quickly became my main workout, and still is. I have never regretted purging that fat wardrobe!

When your thighs are screaming, my biochemist side says you must focus your thoughts on mitochondria (aargh!)–those are the little furnaces in your cells that import/burn fatty acids and export energy (ATP), and they tend to decline in number and become damaged with age. The holy grail of anti-aging research is to find nutritional and physical means to support mitochondrial robustness and proliferation, leading to a longer, healthier life. There is no question that stressing and recruiting new muscle fibers, as we do during every class, will greatly assist in this quest, although it isn’t easy. You have to fight for good health and fitness as you age (it’s that, “Rage, Rage…” thing!)

The testimonials from younger folks don’t always talk about it, but another huge benefit of Bar Method comes from the relentless emphasis on stretching. I was flexible in another life many years ago, but I could hardly get my leg up on the barre when I took my first class, and I didn’t quite “get” why we were wasting time doing so many stretching moves during a workout class. With dance training, I should have realized the importance earlier, but I really get it now. It’s amazing to me, but most of my flexibility has returned and my back is a lot straighter (after the constant corrections in class), not to mention that I DO NOT feel or move like an old person in my everyday life. And suddenly, I find I can sleep on my stomach again, without waking up with lower back spasms. These are such amazing gifts!

Much to my surprise, I have come full circle, returning to a workout that originated from dance technique, when I thought I had moved way beyond that time in my life. Apparently, it was just what I needed, even though I didn’t expect that at all, when I attended my first class. When in doubt, listen to your inner child…the magic seems to work for so many folks, even if they never had the opportunity to dance “back in the day,” as I did.

After 4+ years (and no end in sight), I am incredibly grateful to have Bar Method as a partner in my life. Furthermore, my family is grateful that we can finally celebrate birthdays on the date, since there is always another excellent Bar Method class available at an alternate time, not to mention that my beautiful daughters (Kristi and Lisa) are often in there with me. So finally, here’s to Fitness AND Family!