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My Love and Hate Relationship with the Barre

My hands grip the barre until my knuckles start to pale; my rings dig into my fingers from the pressure. I am clinging to the slender wood for dear life as my entire body threatens to tremble into a puddle on the thin carpet.

“Rise onto your highest pair of heels, and sink you seat an inch lower,” the instructor says as she paces methodically around the room. Her tone is soothing, yet her words abrate my mind as my muscles beg me to stop in an ascending burn.

I roll onto my toes, pressing and arching my foot until I feel my calf muscle ball up behind the back of my knee. As I ease my hips lower, awkwardly squatting above my elevated heels, my legs behind to vibrate. It’s a subtle tremble at first, just a quiver on the edge of my skin, sending waves through the acid beginning to team on my muscles. I breathe through pursed lips and hold tighter to the barre.

“Now tuck to tempo. Tuck, tuck, tuck.”

I dig deep and gather the muscles of my abdomen in towards my spine, tilting my pelvis up into my torso. The muscles that still feel so distended from two babies. With each tuck, fire licks the tops of my thighs. My heels press against each other, desperate to stay lifted. I feel the weakness trickle down, pouring over my legs down into my perched toes.

“Lower your hips down an inch, up an inch. Little down, little up.”

My muscles practically cackle at her words they sound so outrageous. Didn’t she mean lower your heels and lock your knees? Stand like a normal, relaxed person?

I close my eyes and breathe more purposefully. I do not look in the mirror. I do not want to see the sweaty tomato of my face while my reflection wants to give up so deeply. 

“This is your last change,” she says.

Hope blossoms across my chest. I can do this. It has to be less than a minute left.

A minute of burning hell on my legs.

I lower and lift my hips against the objections of my flesh. I make the small, controlled motions even though my nerves send relentless messages indicating they cannot comply. My body moves just the same. With each lower, the shake seizes me. My heels wobble and smack together; my knees knock and tremble. I can feel the vibrations rolling up my body in waves all the way to my cheeks.

“Final 10 strong. 1, 2, 3, 4…”

The countdown inspires me. Only 10 tiny movements left. I clutch the barre harder, close my eyes tighter, focus only on her count. I drop my seat lower, tuck my hips harder. My entire body is a mess of quivering fire.

” 9 and 10.”

I made it. I lock my knees and bask in the pleasant rush of the acid receding from my muscles. I breathe out relief as the heat stops flaring beneath my face.

Then I feel it, somewhere between the endorphins and the accomplishment–the high. The pain in my body evolves into euphoria, and my mind climbs somewhere both level and calm.

 

love

I believe I can safely say that I have reached addiction level with my affair with Pure Barre.

socks

That is what I do, after all: become addicted to things. Substances, activities, people, places. My mind will turn about anything into a drug. I live in extremes and chases excesses. If a little is good, more must be better, and a lethal dose is probably where I’ll end up.

Hence the attempt to shift addictions to “healthy” outlets. But I digress…

I started trying barre classes because an acquaintance of mine had started teaching classes and was posting about it. I was mired in my obsession to recover from my son and was trying any and all fitness options available, so I gave it a shot.

The first class absolutely annihilated me. I could scarcely perform the exercises included, and I was sore like I potentially never have been. And I rarely get sore anyway.

bettersorethansorry

I enjoyed the class, felt deeply intrigued by the challenge; however, I was married to my gym and the full schedule of classes I committed to every week. I could not afford the extra expense and more the extra time without provided child care. So barre became an occasional flirtation, once a month or so.

At some point, I started going more frequently. Perhaps when my son’s school schedule changed and gave me more unencumbered time. Then I purchased a deal on classes without actually reading the fine print. When my unused classes were about to expire, the studio owner was gracious enough to give me an extension, into which I stuffed every class I could make.

Boom. Addiction.

I actually injured my hamstring doing barre stretches. After a dance class, I was moving gently through the thigh stretch sequence. When I came down easily into the splits (which was a celebrated accomplishment), something popped, and five months later, I am still recovering. Ironically enough, the activity that injured me also seems to the best suited to my injury. With its minute, controlled movements, barre  is the perfect exercise to strengthen my hamstring without straining it further.

It is as if the class itself has trapped me.

plie

Now, I am a 2-3 classes a week attendee whenever I can support it. With my obsessive commitment, it is pretty often though children and work are known to pop up in the way. Barre even has me convinced me to abandon the gym, shifting to only barre, belly dance, and running. Once I found a piece of dance to complete my heart, I was sold.

I LOVE and HATE Pure Barre classes, potentially equally, definitely simultaneously.

The classes themselves make me uncomfortable. Yes, I am a dancer; I was a belly dancer for eight years and still pursued hauntings of that with zumba and hip hop classes. However, that is all VERY different from ballet. The only ballet I have experienced is watching my daughter’s classes. I had the benefit of knowing how to tuck my hips, but the form and movements are all completely divergent. It throws my body out of its comfort zone, challenges its muscle memory and ingrained positions.

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Yet, beyond the physical fluency, I do not look like a ballerina. The instructors and the majority of the students look like they came up on the barre, long, lean, and svelte. I am a thicker girl with curves and things that shake when I shimmy. Never do I look larger than in a classroom full of these slender former dancers. And that unavoidable comparison tickles every tingle of body dysmorphia I have. Hating myself in a barre class mirror is what pushed me back to counting calories (which I thankfully have dropped again).

This discomfort is part of the reason I keep going back. Yes, I am a masochist at heart, but it is also the challenge that seduces me. I want to feel like I overcame the weakness of my flesh; I want to feel like I made progress battling back the crazy in my mind.

sock-blog

Physically, I am enticed by not being good at it, by it always being hard no matter how much I improve. Like running, regardless of how much I train or how I often I do it, I am not able to coast. I coasted through my entire youth; I don’t want that anymore. If I somehow master one routine, it changes to a new one that wreaks havoc on my muscles. And I’m a sucker for the pain of it.

And it hurts. So much. The class is literally painful. You would think such tiny movements would be easy. Absolutely not. My muscles are on fire and trembling the entire class. I can feel tidal waves of acid blaze over my nerves. My knuckles go white clinging to that barre for dear life. I sweat as much as I do in high cardio. It hurts. Yet on the flip side of that pain is the rush after, the high, the euphoria. Which is ultimately what I am always physically chasing. Which I why I am so addicted to running.

As much as it pains me physically, the true challenge for me is mental, emotional. That goddamn echo of an eating disorder I can’t seem to shake. Mentally, I refuse to be controlled my own insecurities. I will not allow my misguided, shallow fixations and comparisons to prevent me from doing anything. I may feel gigantic and weak in these classes, out of place and incongruent with all the other participants, but that is why I have to keep going. Not to work my way into fitting in but to make myself become comfortable standing out. I will learn to love and accept myself one way or another. If I can wrangle bipolar, body distortion should be downhill from here. Even if I have to sit with my own self-loathing beating at my chest and a swarm of inappropriate comparisons buzzing in my brain for 100 classes. I will not limit myself.

ball

And with each class, it gets better. I feel more at home in the class; I feel more comfortable in my skin. I am wearing myself down, dulling my sensitivities, making it part of my normal. If I can accomplish that, it would be far more valuable than getting to a certain size or weight.

So I love and hate the physical challenge. I hate and need the mental challenge. The results… I just love.

My son is over two now. I have been literally beating myself up for two years trying to recover from him. Between thyroid issues and injuries, diets and different classes, nothing really worked. Or maybe did not work fast enough for me. Either way. Yet, with the recent burst of barre classes, I not only notice a different in the performance of my muscles, I actually physically see the different on my body. I think all the cross training is why my running pace continues to improve though my injury does not and training has not happened at all.

Most of all, these classes are doing amazing things for my ass (or “seat,” as they call it). It is at a height and shape it has never been in my life. My waistline, or saddlebags if you will, are also trimming way down. My back is tightening up. Muscles are starting to bulge out of my flexed quads and calves like they did when I played soccer in high school. My body is not perfect, not where the crazy part of my mind demands it be, but I am seeing the positive results. The more I see, the more fervently I devote to the classes.

So I’m in it, maybe all in it, working harder at quelling my self-abuse and finding a real acceptance for my body than anything else. If barre is the tool I need and makes my body healthier in the process, all the better. I’ll be there, obsessively shaking at the barre.

equip2

And just to up the ante, I am also doing the Whole30 challenge as part of my new commitment to the barre. Not to lose weight, not to starve myself but because my body needs the detox and the reset. And because it does not allow any weighing or measuring. I am going all in, striving to find my strength and my balance.

setthebarre

Christina Bergling

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Beatrix woke up in a cage. Can she survive long enough to escape, or will he succeed at breaking her down into a possession?

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Resolutions

Ah, the new year. An arbitrary revolution of the calendar that gives us the illusion or the excuse at a fresh start.

I have made many resolutions over the years, mostly of the extreme or self-loathing variety. Not all of them are precipitated by the new year; that just presents a convenient excuse to brand intention into my brain. Over the course of my “fitness journey” (read: whole damn life), I have made countless goals and resolutions. And each time I fail at them or they turn on me, I tell myself that I have learned from them; that I will get it right next time. Yet, instead, I seem to find a new way of getting it wrong, another unique way of pushing it too far and perverting the intention to masochistic proportions.

So I am accepting this quirk in my pathology, this extremist tendency of mine. I am acknowledging and embracing it. I am changing my resolution paradigm. Instead, I am going to keep it simple. My goal, my new year’s resolution as it were is: BALANCE.

That’s it. Balance.

(Potentially the hardest thing ever for me, by the way.)

I want to find the compromise between a hardcore diet and binging on food. I want to exercise from a place of health, loving my body, and enjoying the activity rather than to punish my body. I want to find a way to pursue my goals while also appreciating where I am.

Balance.

I think this idea has become especially important as I recently decided to return to therapy. I have not worked with a therapist since I was pregnant and post-partum with my daughter, over 5 years ago. Yet, I very lately plunged into a bought of body dysmorphia so strong, so persistent, so pervasive that I felt compelled to reestablish a clinical lifeline.

Generally, when I am managing my crazy, I can diffuse distorted thoughts by analyzing them, dismantling them, and applying logic. It may not necessarily cure or alleviate the feelings, but generally, it brings me back to perspective enough to ride it out while preventing behavioral consequences. In this particular round, nothing had any impact on the thoughts. I could tell myself that it was physically impossible to gain any significant amount of weight overnight, yet I just continued to obsess, fixate, hate myself, plan how I would punish myself.

It was alarming enough for me to decide to do something different. It has been over two years of unhealthy obsession disguised as health and recovery. I need to break the cycle and actually create balance in my mind more than anywhere else.

I am also changing my fitness regime with the new year. After two years of being devotedly dedicated to the gym, I am dropping my membership. My favorite zumba teacher left. They dropped the hip hop class I enjoyed. I went from attending 6+ times a week to maybe 2. It is simply not worth the investment. Plus, it is time to spice things up.

In the spirit of enjoyment over punishment, I am trading the gym to return to belly dance. I am also diving into my new barre addiction. And, hamstring willing, I want to get back to more running.

I guess my new year’s resolution is to have no resolution, to learn to let go. To find my balance.


The Injury Cycle. Again.

And I’m injured again.

I feel like my fitness life has become one repeating loop. Trauma, recovery, struggle, progress, repeat. It is not a path leading somewhere; instead, it is a rerun of the same circle with varied circumstance. Birth of a child, tweaked hip, now pulled hamstring. True to the cycle, I got into a hard routine, really started to see some promising results, started to push even harder. Then BOOM! Injury. Almost as if my body itself is telling me to calm the hell down.

I’m frustrated, of course. This vicious cycle beats me down because it makes goals seem unattainable if I really am only moving toward them for a hard detour into yet another recovery and new start. Yet I am also irritated because I’m an addict, and I have been derailed. I can’t feed my addiction in this hobbled state; modifications and half-measures are never enough. Some days, full force is not enough. I was FINALLY seeing the aesthetic and performance results I wanted. Or so I told myself because I inevitably upped my requirements, goals, and dreams. But then I pushed too far; I demanded too much of my body, and it objected. Strongly.

I had been taking a lot of Pure Barre classes on a promotion. Barre classes have always been one of the hardest workouts I have attempted. They nearly kill me, and I find myself drawn to the severe challenge. The more classes I took, the better I got at the sequences. I would never say good. I still struggled plenty, but I saw progress. With each class, the closer I also got to doing the splits.

barre

I have always been super flexible, but I had never done full splits before. Following a dance class at the gym, I took some time to stretch and went through a barre stretch sequence. On the first side, I was ecstatic to find myself sitting flat in front splits with ease. I cautiously eased up to a full sit; then I slowly lifted my hands. I was in the splits! Then I switched sides. I repeated the slow and gentle process. Only on this side, when I lifted my hands, there was a loud snap in my hip joint, and my leg managed to drop even though it was already on the floor.

crushfrontsplits

I sat there for a second, completely stunned. I did not quite know what to do. I kept thinking, oh this is bad; I think this is really bad. I eased out of the stretch, and my hip and leg just did not feel right. I did some cautious and gentle stretches, attempting to gauge the damage. I walked around slowly. I went into the hot tub. At first, it seemed OK, just off. Then the pain began to bloom. Different movements caused severe twinges. Soon, there was a lot of sharp and awful pain. There might have been some tears too.

As I got my two young children ready for the swimming I promised them after the class, the pain kept seizing my nerves. I bent down to pick one up and nearly collapsed. I turned to dress another and whimpered. The tears fell down my cheeks somewhere between the physical pain and the crushing realization of how seriously I had injured myself. My two babies comforted me, my two year-old asking “OK, Momma?” and my five year-old saying “It’s OK. Breathe in; breathe out.”

Later that night, after some pain killers, I lay down in bed, and my hip snapped again.

The next day, the pain was different. It was no longer sharp and horrible, more dull and achy. However, I was still mostly incapacitated, especially from a fitness perspective. While it was tender during movement, it was unbearable to stretch. I went from being able to sit with my legs out in front of me and fold over to put my head on my kneecaps to feeling a slicing, painful stretch just sitting up with my legs out. The change was unnerving to be so different from the body I knew.

Of course, I immediately wanted to push right through all the pain. The way I did when I injured my hip last year. But I did not. I forced myself to not. For an entire week, I did NOTHING. It sounds like a short amount of time, but I scarcely go a day or two without some physical activity.  I even sought professional advice.

Since I never bruised or colored, I did not tear anything. After visiting the doctor and being tortured by the chiropractor, it seems like just a serious strain. With heat and anti-inflammatory pills and reluctant rest, it is starting to improve.

hamstringstrain

After evaluation and instruction and advice, I did permit myself to return to working out. However, I have been taking care to baby the hamstring, to accommodate it, to allow it to heal. I have not run. At all. Chasing my son a couple times has shown me that the hamstring is not at all ready. It actually hurts from the first stride. I have done half-strength zumba and yoga and even barre again. It is strange to go to zumba and only shake one side hard or go to yoga and only lay on one knee cap. It is weird to follow the muscle memory toward my accustomed flexibility and be so halted by the pain.

I am trying to learn this time though. When I injured my hip last year, I ran right through it and stretched the injury out over 9 months. It took way more work to recover. It just never improved because I kept straining it; I kept making it worse. I lived in KT tape, and the KT tape is the only thing that actually allowed it to heal. This time, I am going to rest while hurt, actually recover, then go back. It is killing me, but I keep telling myself that it is the right thing to do. I would rather suffer in the idle now than damage myself long term.

I am trying to take this injury as a good thing, as much as my mind is completely resisting the idea. I was starting to hit it too hard; I can see that now. I was pushing my 6 workouts a week to 9 or 10. I was adding additional days with double workouts, considering triple. I was taking away the one rest day a week I was giving myself. I was crossing that line of healthy enthusiast to self-destructive addict.

Typical me.

So it is a good thing that my body derailed me, a necessary thing. This will give me an opportunity to (begrudgingly) start fresh, reprioritize, see that it is acceptable to take a break and do less. I wish it did not take a serious injury to get me to step back and reevaluate, but it is a reality about myself. Sometimes, even the injury will not stop me. Like last time, I will go right through that pain.

Not this time. This time, I am learning. Or I am making the choice to learn over and over, every time I nearly fall into old patterns and injure myself further or push myself too hard.

I do miss running though. Fall weather is flirting on the edges of summer, and I just want to be on the trail in the mindless rhythm of my footfalls. My body itself misses the motions. It feels the same way it did at the end of my pregnancy and the beginning of post-partum. But I know the running is not going anywhere. The trails will not vanish while I recover. My sanity may side-step for a while, but I can find it again somewhere on one of my routes.

 

Christina Bergling

christinabergling.com
facebook.com/chrstnabergling
@ChrstnaBergling
chrstnaberglingfierypen.wordpress.com
pinterest.com/chrstnabergling

SavagesCoverChristinaSavages

Two survivors search the ruins of America for the last strain of humanity. Marcus believes they are still human; Parker knows her own darkness. Until one discovery changes everything.

Available now on Amazon!
savagesnovella.com

TheWaning_CoverThe Waning

Beatrix woke up in a cage. Can she survive long enough to escape, or will he succeed at breaking her down into a possession?

Available now on Amazon!
thewaning.com