Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Water Aerobics Group

     I know I must show up for the coffee hour after my water aerobics group. After my melanoma surgery I was allowed to take a shower but I was not supposed to submerge my surgery site for long periods. Therefore, I would not be able to participate in water aerobics for at least 3 weeks until the sutures came out. If I didn't show up at all, I knew these women would begin to wonder what was going on with me. They would not call me as readily as some others in the group. Since I am a retired physician, they trust me to take care of myself. But as a general rule if you miss more than a set number of days which is set differently and unverbally for every member, someone will call you to see if you are doing OK. Why haven't you been at water aerobics? It is a wonderful mix of caring and nosiness.
     This group is an interesting community of women, mostly senior women, though not all. We jokingly also call the water aerobics class the "Graveyard for former tennis players." Another person said she didn't like that term and would rather call it the Boneyard for tennis players. I don't really see the saving grace of the second term. Might as well call like it is! Indeed, several of us are former tennis players that have reached an age or a medical condition that precludes the rather rambunctious game of tennis. Water aerobics is gentler on the weight bearing joints, and is sometimes put down as a wimpy exercise routine. But try it sometime! First of all you can make what you want from it. Sometimes we might have a teacher who is a little wimpy but you can do the exercise at a faster pace, or extend the range of motion of the underwater actions and you will achieve a higher level of cardio than you might expect. However, if like me, you are recovering from a medical insult, you can do what you can in the water and still get benefit.
     This group of women is quite eclectic. We have Jewish housewives who took care of their home, their kids, and the Jewish life to which they were born. We have our own poet who has been trying to get published for many years and has recently had some such honors. She still attends writing workshops and actively pursues her trade though well past the usual retirement age.  There is the wife of a local cardiologist who has now taken instruction and become one of our teachers. There is the wife of a retired local weatherman who is well known in the community. She is one of those women who takes care of the Jewish life of her family and the local community. We have a very gentle grey haired lady who has survived two husbands and quietly goes about her life, a little overweight but after aerobics always dressed "to the nines." There is a 94 year old who has just had her shoulder replaced due to arthritic pain. She is doing well with that but now is fighting a low back problem. Little and frail, there she is almost daily at the aerobics class. We have two men that regularly attend. I don't know K well but Yuri is a Russian gentleman who can barely speak English. But he watches the rest of us for the moves and has slowly learned English for the various moves and sequences that the teacher calls out. Our teacher says he doesn't speak English, but he speaks "water aerobics."
    The session often opens with the teacher announcing the current health status of one or two members who have had surgery or who have been sick.
     Of course, the beauty of this exercise is that you can do it at what ever pace or intensity that your body needs. We have one teacher who tries to encourage members of the group to push themselves a little harder. But I don't see that it makes much difference. The important thing is that these people are here and they are moving their body in some fashion. The second important thing, or maybe the most important thing is that this group is a community. After the class we join for coffee and sometimes cake or sandwiches are provided by a member or two to celebrate their birthday. Members support each other, call each other up, offer rides to various activities to others, play mahjong together, take a meal over to another member who is sick, etc just generally serve as a support group for each other. Two of us had played tennis together in a group for many years and that group was friends but I don't think this level of support was there. So when I return and maybe before I return I will get a dose of that support and maybe it will help a small degree in the healing process.
     After the water aerobics class is over, while still in the water, I often do about 10 minutes or so of a movement that I just created myself. It is a repetitive movement that uses the whole body. I try to time it to the music that is still running for a while, or I try to do some mindfulness practice with observation of my breath during the movement. Sometimes I practice some tonglen. Yuri swims some slow laps afterwards and he saw my eyes closed. He asked, "didn't sleep?" I said, "No, I am meditating." He understood and made a surprised look, repeated the word and went on his way. One of the teachers asked me once what I was doing. She said she couldn't show what I am doing to this group but she wanted to know for herself. I explained my practice to her and went on with it. Combining the two important things of mindfulness practice and exercise is a very restorative activity for me. In my retirement the importance of these classes, the water activity and this particular water aerobics community warrants a place on my daily calendar, at least three or four times a week.


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