I hate to jog. An epidemic of runners ranting about the joys of jogging as the ultimate high simply gives me hives.I'm not sure if my feelings stem from an aversion to fads, to sweating or to exercise in general, or from deep-seated childhood memories.
With my lithe angular body, I was one of the fastest runners in Miss Hazelett's fifth grade and generally one of the last to be caught in a game of tag. But then in the sixth grade, as I started to "develop" (blush) and the boys paid more attention to which girls wore bras and how their bosoms jiggled when they ran, my new curves and growing self-consciousness made it harder to run as fast and easier to just "let" the boys catch me.
It was in the sixth grade that the lessons from mother, teachers and peers were powerfully ingrained: It wasn't ladylike to be tomboy or to be better than the boys, either physically or mentally, because then they might not want to catch you. Consequently, I developed a long-lasting distaste of games, sports, exercise and sweaty pursuits where I couldn't excel as my perfectionist nature demanded and which were the domain of the macho sex. Now that a growing women's consciousness recognizes that exclusion from these very sports upon which the business world is modeled has made more difficult for women to understand the plays and move upward, I'm miffed about buying into this questionable package. yet I haven't converted this anger into renewed love of physical exertion, perspiration and public jiggling.
On a beautiful sunny Saturday, seized with guilt pangs for not being out jogging or exercising or doing somnething to get my soon-to-be-bikini-bared body in shape, I found myself sharing these thoughts with other participants in a workshop appropriately titled "I Want to Exercise, But I Don't. Why?"
The experimental workshop at the Washington Community Therapy Guild and an earlier one on "Anxiety, Depression and Exercise" were initiated by two avid jogger/therapists, Joe Riener and Stephanie Koenig. In their work with clients and their readings, they observed a strong relationship between depression and low levels of energy or physical activity.
Recently, researchers have discovered that the brain contains certain chemicals called endomorphins, structurally similar to morphine, which can alleviate pain and effect mood. Researchers theorize that stress from vigorous exercise stimulates the production of endomorphins, particularly the brain chemical and mood elevator norepinephrine, which might account for the "jogger's high." After working three sedentary jobs for a year with attendant long hours, fatigue and lows, I didn't need research or my medical-drug reporting background to confirm my firs-hand experiences involving the interrelationship between mind and body.
Riener and Koenig decided to establish introductory workshops and later ongoing support groups, including jogging in nearby Rock Creek Park, for people who dislike exercise and jogging to explore the emotional difficulties and personal sabotage that prevents people from establishing a satisfying exericse program - negative body images, anger at parents or coaches who pushed exercise in the past, fears and fantasies that occur when changing lifelong habits, and emotional blockages such as anxiety and depression. They will aid group members in establishing and maintaining an appropriate exercise program and in exploring the positive and negative physical and emotional changes that occur.
"I'm here out of pure desperation," confessed a lean, long-haired, chain smoker who added that her lack of physical care has resulted in health problems she can no longer afford to ignore. She berates herself for the yo-yo syndrome - starting and not carrying through with exercise programs - and fears entering a jogging program "which will show me up as a physical wreck with little lung power."
A soft-spoken black woman who works full time and raises a family said she "can't find the time to exercise." She later admitted that she would feel self-conscious jogging in public as long as she is slightly overweight because "I'm concerned that they're going to say, 'What's that fatty out there doing running?' It seems that only when a woman has a baby is it acceptable to sweat, push, work, exert."
Female participants share common school-gym experiences: ugly gym suits, "masculine" gym teachers, not having to take showers during "that time of month," aversion to sweating, having the pressure to look good when the boys were around, feelings of not being able to compete with other women overtly, not being able to swim to meet graduation requirements, expectations that they were always supposed to feel good after activity and feeling guilty and unforgiving of their bodies and themselves when they didn't.
From a male standpoint, Riener describes being angered "at football coaches. It took me years to get over their poor ways of exercise. As part of my training, I was in therapy for years and often got the blahs. I've now been running for two years and have pretty much beats the blahs. Now I only get depressed when I push my body too hard and get overly exhausted. Sometimes my legs hurt.Sometimes I'm reminded that I'm getting older. But overall running makes me feel great."
Koenig illustrates her greater dichotomy as thoughts turn to jogging - when part of her that would just as soon sit comfortably and read a new magazine whispers, "Why bother?" and the other part insists, "You should." She encourages participants to keep an exercise diary as an incentive, to make occasional commitments for exercise or physical activity with friends, and to receive a regular jogging or exercise publication as a reminder.
The two-hour session is over. Outdoors, the glorious smells and sights of Washington beckon. It is really a perfect day for jogging - bright, crisp, invigorating. Would further sessions and support from others who had thus far avoided jogging with the pack turn me into just another mindless sheep hoofing along the asphalt going nowhere?
In my unscuffed Nike waffle blue-and-yellow jogging shoes, I seld-righteously race past the Gifford's Ice Cream shop below and drive off into the sunshine in my green dented rusted Camaro. Like Scarlett O'Hara, I would think about it. Tomorrow. CAPTION: Picture, no caption, By John McDonnell.