Hit the gym five days a week. Train for a 5K. Go for a walk at lunch. Sound familiar? You probably hear or read something of the like every year around this time as people vow to get in shape after indulging in holiday decadence. But what if we looked at working out as a way to indelibly improve the way we feel, the way we perform, even the way we interact in the world? Let’s take a look beyond the physical when it comes to getting physical.
Sanctuary on Ice
Drew Dardis grew up watching ice-skating during the Olympics and began hitting the ice at age 11 after a good friend turned him on to the sport. Although the rigors of school—a professional flutist, Dardis got his undergraduate degree at the Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and his master’s at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland—and the necessities of life forced him to take breaks from the ice during the past 14 years, he kept coming back. “I just never stop thinking about it,” he admits of ice-skating. In fact, when Dardis returned to Sacramento from Scotland this past August, he went back to his old stomping grounds, Skatetown in Roseville, the next day.
These days, Dardis is using his time and resources to pursue the sport. “I’m enjoying the way it is encouraging me to push myself,” he says. “I’ve been getting into weightlifting and contortion. If it was not for skating, I would not have a need to do any of that stuff.”
Though playing the flute and skating may seem like two different activities, Dardis credits his skating with enhancing his musicianship by helping him with everything from battling stage fright to building the physical endurance—upright carriage, evenly distributed weight, tight core and relaxed breathing—needed for playing the flute. “It’s almost like weightlifting for the flute,” he says. More importantly, though, is what it’s doing for his mind.
“The two things I get out of ice-skating the most are a feeling of Zen and complete focus, because when I go to the rink it is like nothing exists when I am in there,” he says. “All that exists is my skating and the feeling of freedom and liberation that I have on the ice. To be able to hold a position but to feel the wind in your face and feel this momentum behind you . . . it feels like I am flying. You can’t focus on anything else. I think it is really healthy for my brain.”
Run for Fun
The Sacramento Running Association has been introducing local youth to the sport of running since the 1980s. Races such as the UC Davis Children’s Hospital MaraFUNrun 5K, held in conjunction with the California International Marathon, and activities such as the Spring Track Youth Fitness Program help fulfill the founding board members’ mission to interest kids in fitness. In 2018, the organization started the STRIDE program (Sac City Tracks Running to Improve Daily Education), partnering with Sacramento City Unified School District to offer elementary school students the opportunity to experience running. Using equipment supplied by the SRA, each campus implements the program during P.E. or lunch, or another time during the school day. “We felt it was important to create a program that was integrated into the campus experience,” says Ellen Moore, the association’s special events director. The program culminates at the sixth-grade level with STRIDE Olympic Days, a track and field competition held at a local high school.
The STRIDE program, says Moore, is more about movement than about how fast you can run. In fact, aside from the Olympic Days event, competition is kept out of the conversation. “We focus totally on participation,” explains Moore. “We do not focus on who’s the fastest. We focus on ‘How does running make me feel?’ ‘How does moving make me feel?’ ‘How does my mind feel?’ It encourages them to make the connection between their body and their mind and make the connection between fitness and fun. It really leads to many positive outcomes in the academic setting, in the social setting, in their mental health,” she says.
This past October, the association held its inaugural SCUSD Middle School Cross Country Championship. “The middle school program is introducing the sport within a more competitive environment,” says Moore. Still, as with the STRIDE program, kids of all abilities are welcome.
“The great thing about the sport of running is it’s a sport where everyone on the team gets to contribute,” says Moore. “Nobody sits on the bench.”
Oh, the Power!
If you have sorely missed being around people during the COVID-19 pandemic, taiko drumming may be an activity to take up in the new year.
“Taiko drumming is learned and participated in in groups,” explains Kristy Oshiro, a student of taiko drumming for 30 years and a teacher for 20. “There’s this community aspect of the process. A lot of my students enjoy not just the class but the other students in the class.”
But you needn’t be musical or coordinated to engage in this Japanese performing art form. “Everyone can find a way to interact with the taiko, so even those who are impaired physically can do it,” says Oshiro, who teaches locally at Sierra 2 Center and Hart Senior Center as well as in Penryn, Nevada City, San Mateo and Oakland.
And you can get a workout. “Not all styles of taiko drumming will be super physically intensive and taxing, but it can be at times, depending on the style. The students definitely feel muscles being worked in the class, especially when they first start,” says Oshiro, who admits to feeling the burn after taking a break during COVID. “These past two years, I definitely have a new appreciation for the type of exercise that I had been getting.”
For many, including Oshiro, taiko is a way to engage musically, mentally and physically, but it’s also much more. A fourth-generation Japanese American who identifies as gender nonbinary, Oshiro found taiko to be a way to celebrate their culture and express themselves nonverbally. “I was able to be myself more fully through taiko drumming in a way that I did not feel comfortable or safe in other parts of my life,” says Oshiro, who founded Queer Taiko in Oakland in 2013 as “an intentional safe space that I wish I would have had.”
Taiko draws people in with its visceral nature. “You not only see it, but you feel it. Anyone who has seen it knows what I am talking about,” Oshiro says. “To learn to be the one who is creating that sound is empowering. A lot of my students are cisgendered women who feel empowered by being the one who can be loud and visible and create that powerful sound.”
Keep on Moving
Whether you’re resolving to start moving for the physical, mental or spiritual benefits or for all of the above, getting started can be tough. We all know the rules: Start out slowly, work out with a friend, choose something you love. Kirkland Troy, owner of Fit-Stasis Exercise Coaching and Consulting Group in Sacramento, offers a few more ideas.
- Change your thinking about working out: “Accept the fact that it is a routine,” says Troy–one that you will stick with for life rather than a “get thin quick” effort.”
- Develop a “healthy vanity.” Self-love and acceptance are key to sticking with a fitness routine, according to Troy. “Love what you see,” says Troy. “If you don’t love her, you are going to make this very hard.”
- “Accept the body you have and work with it,” says Troy. “Be committed but don’t obsess. Life is too short. Don’t kill yourself over this.”
- Get your mind in the game. “Sometimes the first thing I ask a person is, ‘How you feel?’” says Troy. “If your mind isn’t right, that will determine what I am going to do with you. If you are by yourself, you just have to hone into ‘this is a little sweat, a little pain.’ It’s about work. Once you have it down, you are in and out of the gym like that.”
- Examine the “why.” Let’s be real: Getting physical may not always be fun in the moment. “It (being fit) leads you to be able to do the other things you love: ‘Now I can kayak, play with my kid, mountain climb,’” says Troy. “All these doors start to open up.”
- Educate yourself. “The more you educate yourself on what you are doing, the more you will stick with it,” says Troy. “Exercise goes beyond losing weight and looking good; it’s about gaining cardiovascular health and bone density as well as gaining coordination, flexibility, balance, etc.”
- Accept that sometimes life happens. Something is going to get in the way of your workout: an injury, kids, your job. “These are the things that can get in the way of your progress, but don’t stop celebrating yourself.” Bottom line: If you fall off, get back on.
- Embrace being a newbie. “Be OK starting at the beginning,” says Troy.