If you’re going to take your first ever fitness class, the Forest Theater in Chapel Hill is a splendid place to do it. Surrounded with rock walls and steps, pea gravel, and gorgeous gnarled trees, it’s the perfect arena to learn (or, really, re-learn) how to move. We –my 11.5 year old son, Kedric, a 13 year old and his dog, a grad student, and myself– gathered with Fifth Ape instructor, Colin Pistell, to retrain our neurological impulses. Within seconds, we were all on the ground, moving our hands and legs in seemingly simple patterns that literally boggled our minds.
Last week, I bemoaned, loudly, my decision to join the Spartan Sprint Race in Charlotte in March, 2013. The moaning and groaning is partly because I’ve let myself get out of shape and partly because this obstacle race is a wee bit scary. I signed up for a free intro class at Fifth Ape (known for its stellar parkour instruction on the UNC campus), hoping to be hooked into taking classes that will help me overcome obstacles, both stone and mental.
I was not disappointed. By the end of our hour, I happily knew more about the mechanics of movement than I’ve ever been interested in finding out before, and was moving (if ever so slightly) differently. The most surprising change was mental — not only did I immediately want to sign up for a series of parkour and movement classes, but I suddenly looked at running differently. Normally, when running, the greatest obstacle is mental (not unlike writing), especially for me. I get bored quickly, and use any discomfort as a reason to stop.
Tackling these obstacles was different, though. Sure, there was discomfort (my hands were red and dimpled from gravel for at least 24 hours, and most of my major muscle groups still sting several days later), but it was secondary. I wanted to jump and land correctly. I wanted to get to the top of the wall. Even now, I find myself wanting to find a wall and try out the techniques we learned on Sunday. Even though I only got over the first and lowest of the three walls, I didn’t feel discouraged but rather empowered. Suddenly, running seems like a tool — a means of getting stronger and faster in order to tackle really fun physical challenges.
I’m guessing the shift is in part because, when I’m running, the focus is on me. The problem, the challenge, is my resistance; my dislike of feeling uncomfortable; my insecurity and fear. When faced with a wall or a jump, the brain is engaged; it’s presented with a puzzle to figure out. When running is the challenge, it’s harder to engage the brain — in fact, my modus operandi up until now has to been to disengage the brain in order to literally take my mind off what I’m doing.
At the beginning of the class, Colin was clear that in order to do parkour or any of the movement work, you can’t disengage. Disengaging is the tendency for most of us, but the key is actually focusing.
I don’t know what the next few months will bring in terms of challenges and discomforts and changes as I train for the unknown, but it’s looking very promising so far.