Friday, September 28, 2007

Fall Term Exercise

Lane Community College has a deal with the local bus service that allows students to ride the bus for free. Faculty do not get this benefit, unless they register for a class and thus are also students. Since the college reimburses faculty most of the cost of one class each term this is a popular option. Most of the faculty take a P.E. class since they then get exercise as well as a nearly free bus rides.

Last school year I took a Tai Chi class in Fall and Winter. Fall term it was the 18-move Chen short style. Winter term it was the 55-move Yang sword style. (Spring term my schedule was not compatible with any P.E. class I wanted to take.)

This school year I am starting out with two P.E. classes. Unfortunately, my schedule is again not compatible with Tai Chi. So I am trying yoga and strength training.

The yoga class could have been problematic in two ways.

The first potential problem was that yoga is really much more than a system of exercises based on breathing and postures. In the U.S. people normally only focus on the exercise aspect of yoga, especially in an exercise class. This is also true in the P.E. class I am taking, so I do not have to worry; I'm following instructions about physical exercise, not spiritual activity. (In a similar way, Taoism in the U.S. is usually limited to the philosophical aspect and ignores the religion involving ancestor worship that has attached itself to the philosophy in Asia. I would not be doing a translation of the Tao Te Ching in my free time otherwise!)

The second potential problem was staying "above reproach", as Paul writes to Timothy. To be professional I must not only behave properly but avoid situations in which people might even suspect I am not behaving properly. If the yoga class had no other men, or if the women were dressed for aerobic activity, I would not be able to take the class. However, neither is the case. Fortunately that room in the recreation center has the air conditioner set to "arctic" and so the attire worn is sweat pants and fully cut shirts (and some people even wear a sweat shirt).

The strength training class will be my first real exposure to free weights. I've used weight machines plenty of times over the years but never had proper training in barbells and dumbbells. My cycling and skateboarding keep my lower body in reasonable shape, but my upper body is currently not exercising much. It will be nice (and hopefully good for posture and general relaxation) to have a better balance of muscle tone.

Both the yoga and strength training classes have their own ideas about what makes a "complete" workout. These ideas are quite complimentary: yoga emphasizes mixing relaxation and stretching along with muscle work, and the strength training emphasizes learning a variety of exercises for each muscle group since any given exercise begins to lose efficiency after about three weeks.

Perhaps by the end of the term I can invent a "Tai Chi Dumbbell" form that can be done in the living room and blends the best of all three worlds, including subtle ways to modify the movements every three weeks to maintain efficiency in strength building.