(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

Just been thinking about fitness lately—maybe because it’s April. The cliché about thoughts turning to exercise in the spring is often as true as the cliché of thoughts turning to love. People look in the mirror and suddenly realize they can’t hide in their layers anymore—at least if they don’t want to faint from heatstroke.

I meet so many women who aren’t as fit as they’d like to be or who are fit but don’t look that fit. Many times you find out they used to be almost overboard fit and are still mystified that the body facing them in the mirror is theirs.

Boy, do I get that. When you grow up slender and spend a lot of energy moving, sometimes it’s hard to realize when you have become far from slender and have stopped putting much energy into moving. What was maybe easy to do or find time for when all you had to do was think about yourself, becomes so much more difficult when adulthood’s real obligations kick in.

Which is kind of a funny thought because right now my exercise lifestyle seems pretty extravagant to most adults in my age group—as if I’m back in my adolescent period (although without quite the same results in the mirror!) Exercise has been my main self-care indulgence during these past years of intense care-giving and lack of time for self-focus.

Yet, I probably can’t afford to be a gym rat the rest of my life unless I’m going to somehow make it part of my profession. I’ve ignored too many real life obligations for too many years. (Nonetheless, here I am still not getting all my paperwork together so my longtime friend Kathy can help us figure out how to salvage our lack of financial planning . . .)

So, here’s a semi-secret: just over a month ago I took my ZUMBA instructor training—and then ignored it in light of all the real life drama. However, my ZUMBA instructor friends, Jennifer, Diana, and Karleen, are getting tired of waiting for me to practice so they can let me do a song in their classes. They say I just have to jump in to teaching.

But first (yes, I’m afraid so far there is always a “but first” with me when I start something new) I had to figure out how to set up a space where I can watch the DVDs and practice. It’s the technology and some long sad story about how the DVD player (and the replacement we bought) won’t talk to our TV, but the Xbox will play DVDs. Yet I am a little bit shaky about how to use the stupid controller to play the DVDs. Blah, blah, blah.

However, I have succeeded in mostly figuring out the system and have begun practicing. At the same time, my mind is filling with other musical choice selections and clothing ideas and trying to pin down how to share my mother’s rhythm instruments in a class setting.

Turns out, this also coincides with a week or so when I have felt stronger during almost all of my exercise times.

Still, I need exercise no matter if I am “productive” or not while doing it. Last week’s yoga classes brought me to tears without warning. Wednesday’s savasana tears told me how badly I was missing my doggie Fordham one month after his death. Then Thursday, strains of “Moonlight Sonata” came on in the background and I almost lost it mid-pose. When my cousin’s son Sam performed the piece at Mom’s memorial service, I listened dry-eyed. But in the stillness that is often yoga I finally heard all the sadness inherent in that most beautiful music.

These are not life experiences I had lived when young and fit. Then running was more a way to workout nervous energy and to deal with the ups and downs of a youthful emotional life. Now with so many more losses from longtime relationships, exercise is even more important to me—and no doubt to a lot of people as the years creep up on them.

The obligations of adulthood make exercise that much more necessary. It’s not really just about improving the picture in the mirror or even how the body works, but about finding something that helps get a person through what inevitably comes with later seasons of life.

That’s why I can feel the mission behind something like the ZUMBA fitness program. Oh sure, they’ll tell you ZUMBA class is a party—which it is. But more importantly, anything that gets people to move, despite life’s scars, has the power to create deep changes.

People arrive to their first classes, timid and afraid, believing in the permanency of the mirror and difficult life losses, but they start leaving happy in the moment. They jump back in the dance of life.

Count me in, too.