Sunday, January 20, 2013

You want me to do what with my leg?!?

Karen Jane here! I can't believe it's already been four months since we started conditioning for "Blood, Sweat, and Cheers." It seems like just yesterday that we watched on in amazement as our cheer coach and co-star Halyn did back flips, thinking it would never be possible to reach that level of flexibility and agility.

Actually, it was just yesterday. Halyn does back flips a lot. And none of the rest of us can do back flips yet. And holy cow, Halyn can kick her leg up high!

So, can we do it? Can four adult women learn in 8 short months what Halyn started learning at the tender, jelly-like age of seven?

During the process of learning the cheer components, there have definitely been moments of panic (You want me to do what with my leg?!?) and whining (I'm so sore!) and self-doubt (Man, I suck at dancing!). Even the simple parts of cheer are a challenge for me. Getting those movements sharp (or jabby, as I like to say), sticking to the counts (and 1 and 2 and 3 and..), and using my upper body to get more air on the jumps (counter-intuitive, right?) have not come easily, but they have come.

It never fails. Halyn will show us some new double-triple-spread-eagle-something-or-other and on the inside I'm flailing and screaming, "Good Lord, I'll never be able to do that!" But on the outside I'm like, "Yeah! Let's go! I'm unstoppable! Rah! Rah!" Still, on the inside I'm screaming, "What do you think you're doing?! You're too old for this!" BUT I KNOW BETTER THAN TO LISTEN TO THAT VOICE.

I try it. I fail miserably. I try it again. Hey, it looks better. I keep trying it. Usually within the next week something magical happens and BOOM! The seemingly impossible was made possible!

Cue inspirational music!

When we started cheer practice four months ago, I couldn't stretch as far, I couldn't do all the intense ab workouts we do, and I sure as heck could not do a toe touch while soaring majestically like an eagle through the air. Well, I'm still working on the majestic part... and the soaring part... and the toe touching part... but I'm so close!

We have four more months of training ahead of us, and while it's unlikely that I'll achieve the level of flexibility and agility as our pink-haired ringleader, I will nevertheless continue to loudly proclaim, "Yes, I can! And I will!" Because I want to know just how high I can jump. I want to know just how far I can stretch. I want to know just how many dance moves I can memorize. And no inner voice of doubt is going to keep me from finding out.

We can do it!

Do I sound like a cheer leader yet? :)

Saturday, January 19, 2013


I’ve started practicing yoga as part of my own quest for mindfulness, but also to gain the strength and flexibility for cheerleading.
Drawing a connection between yoga and mindfulness isn’t too far of a stretch. (Oh, pun definitely intended.) But mindfulness and cheerleading? Before training for “Blood, Sweat and Cheers”, I thought that cheerleading was an impersonal, rigid discipline that required perfection and precision above all. Not very zen. But although the routines aim to be sharp and homogenous, cheerleading hinges on the same mindfulness practice found in more conventionally “enlightened” activities.
Through my training, I’ve learned to be aware of the places my body holds tension. I can feel my creeping anxiety in my shoulders. Or my existential crisis du jour in my hips. I’ve learned that a feeling is literally felt, more than just an emotion that I ruminate on, theorize about and react to.
And most recently, I’ve learned that how I respond to physical challenges is the same way I react to challenges in my life.
Last week, we worked on toe-touch jumps and handstands. Every time, I would get halfway up in the air and then flail my legs and halt abruptly.  Although I was safe and supported, I would panic and stop myself from pushing further. I was convinced I wasn’t “ready” yet; I was too afraid to leave the ground. I kept kick-and-flailing long after all the other ladies stopped for a break. I felt stuck. 
Like a hurdler to the side of the head, I realized I was letting fear — not physical limitation — get the better of me. With this realization, I became mindful of the roadblock. And now it didn’t loom so large.
Today, I can’t do a headstand. Tomorrow, I likely won’t be able to do one either. But I’m not going to learn to strengthen my abs and kick my feet to the ceiling by reading about it or talking about it or trying and pulling out of it. I can’t just say I’m “not ready yet”. The skills and strength to do a handstand are learned by doing a handstand. Commiting 100% to trying it as though I already can. I’ll fail and I’ll fall. But I’ll be closer than every time I prepped and prepared only to pull myself down. 
Fear masquerades as self-sabotage, or a list of rational reasons why not, or the fateful word “someday”. Something deep within us whispers that failure has dire consequences, but failure is seldom more destructive than falling out of a handstand. We get dusty; We get back up. We recover and try again.  When pursuing our goals, fear hisses deceit. It promises we’ll make it eventually, but only if we train to perfection before we dare to do it. But in cheerleading, in yoga — and in life — the doing is the training.


(...Not actually about handstands.)