This morning I have been down to my local gym. It is in a local hotel, just round the corner from my house and well equipped with that efficient and friendly atmosphere that hoteliers try to inspire… it is high on relaxing music and the smell of lunch but not necessarily the ambiance I associate with physical exercise.
I never thought I would be doing this again as I haven’t been inside one of these establishments for six or seven years now preferring to practice kung fu as my principal form of fitness training.
I used to be a gym fanatic though and for years I pounded away on running machines, rowing machines, cross-training getting your knickers in a twist machines, you name it and I had a go at it. I lifted weights too and did all those things necessary to keep a pretty high level of fitness. Always in the unpleasantly exposing eye of those giant mirrors, I did manage to defy gravity and a natural lack of athletic skill to achieve that nirvana, the constant endorphin high.
I have been an endorphin junkie ever since.
When I took up Kung fu a few years ago, I was surprized how fit I was and how, against not only my own expectations, I was able to keep up with the others and in some cases….well let’s be honest here, beat them at their own game.
I chose my club well. No I didn’t, fate chose it well because I had no idea what I was walking into that day but, thanks Fate, White Crane Fighting Arts in Lewes with its inspired instructor Neil Johnson was the perfect environment for an endorphin addict who was fit but also remarkably uncoordinated and without any natural skill at anything involving physical movement.
That morning I met one of the most patient teachers I have encountered in a life that has been, so far, packed with new learning experiences from memorable people.
When I had my brain haemorrhage in October 2008, I had been doing up to about 13 hours training a week and I began to think I was on a bit of a breakthrough when I started to enjoy the rolls, not the cheese and onion variety, I mean somersaults and ground rolls and all those other gymnastic movements that I had always thought beyond me.
Well my instructor Neil stayed with me through this year of recovery and in weekly one to one lessons has brought me back to the point where my neurologist says that I can now begin aerobic exercise. Until now I have had to watch keeping my heart rate constant so it took all of Neil’s skills and understanding to keep me going without over-doing it.
We have been meeting every Monday morning now for over a year and, mostly, when I have felt well enough, this has kept me going all year practising my taichi and my kung fu patterns but stopping short of building up a sweat.
Sadly I still find the evening kung fu classes too much – mostly because my condition still tires me out by the end of the day and evenings are never my best time. My brain is using a lot of energy re-routing stuff that got lost or disrupted because of my, fortunately, small amount of brain damage. I still have to rest dammit.
With this in mind, a new regime started this week with a fantastically enjoyable hour in the park where I did my first kung fu sparring in fourteen months – we are going to build on this so that some day soon, or soonish, I hope, I will start going back to normal classes and even, say within a year, achieve the level that I was at just before that haemorrhage interrupted my plans.
And today I began another project aimed at getting me back to aerobic fitness. Yes, I went back to the gym.
There is an excellent service provided in the UK by the National Health Service called the GP Referral Scheme where people recovering from serious illnesses can be referred to a qualified personal trainer or, to use the jargon, a Referral Practice Consultant, who supervises a fitness programme suited to the patient’s medical condition.
My GP is very enthusiastic about the many advantages that fitness has for hastening recovery as well as preventing ill health and he thought it was a perfect scheme for me to join as part of my great fight back.
So this morning I met Riccardo, my personal Referral Practice Consultant, my RPC, who is going to guide me over a period of twelve sessions and, if I need it, beyond.
He is a bright, enthusiastic pony-tailed guy who is also well-endowed in patience and sympatico. We discussed my tragi-comic tale of illness and physical decline and also what I wanted to achieve and, to his and my surprize, once we got going on a few aerobic fitness machines, I did much better than either of us predicted.
It was mid morning and the hotel gym as empty so it was all perfectly relaxed and without any lycra body competitions going on to make me feel inadequate. It was a gentle start, of course, but it is the moment of starting something like this that is so important. Once I had begun it was all plain sailing – 5 minutes speed walking, 10 minutes on a cycle machine, another 10 minutes on a cross-trainer and 5 minutes on a rowing machine.
I broke into a sweat – first time, except when the central heating gets too high, for over a year and had just enough breathlessness to indicate that I wasn’t wasting my time.
Riccardo was really enthusiastic saying that I was in pretty good nick and that probably my fitness level already is way above most “normal” people on the street. If nothing else, this has been a giant boost to my confidence so I shall stick with it now until I feel ready to go back to my kung fu classes.
Maybe the confidence that this is giving me is the most important thing. After a year of semi-retirement from the world, I may have to admit that training in a class of martial artists, does give me some agoraphobic fear. I am still flinching from potential head blows when I walk down the street and, evening tiredness apart, I just don’t feel ready yet to “brave” the class environment. Once again of course, I have to thank Neil, my instructor, for his understanding here. I know he is aware of these fears but he has never spelled it out even when, the other day, he hinted that I should maybe “get out more.”
At the moment my one to one sessions with Neil and now gently patient Riccardo are just right – I can cut out at any moment if I need to without any drama and then carry on without a lot of anxious faces predicting my imminent death. I feel that I am very lucky in this but I am aware that eventually I need to head back to the rough and tumble of normal classes.
However I achieve my fitness come-back, I have a great feeling in my body today after even that slightest of aerobic workouts. There really is nothing like that endorphin fix – I was welcoming back an old friend.