Be a Cat in the Forest
Montana Winters, and Your Body

02/06/13

BY DAVID S. LEWIS

Years back, over a decade ago, a friend asked me to help coach soccer, a team of boys and girls ten and eleven years old. When we came up a man short for scrimmage one day, I filled in, playing soccer for the first time since high school with a bunch of kids. Having warmed up a bit, I felt I was ready, but in short order pulled a bunch of muscles up the right side of my body after over extending while lunging for the ball.

I felt I was getting old, yet that was a long time ago. I was youthful compared to now, but felt like an old man for having spent several years at a sedentary job, sitting all day, especially during long Montana winters.

More recently, the same body felt creaky as an old rocking chair, stiff in all the wrong places in the morning, and later after a few hours at work (same sedentary job). While still not all that old, my body was making me feel like a geezer, as if the undertaker were lurking just around the corner. I realized though that the same thing happened well over a decade ago when I was younger, and that the way I felt was not related to age, but to habits.

Last winter, I began training a bit (light running) in anticipation of fulfilling a pledge to chase a mountain lion with Norm Colbert, down near Nye, a grueling exercise suited to Olympic athletes (think about the remote terrain such an animal can reach and you get the idea). Over a few weeks, I increased my endur-ance a bit, though not nearly enough to keep pace with a lion.

When I met up with Norm that snowy morning, we set out on ATVs, then on foot, after he and his dogs found lion tracks. Norm and his buddy quickly got ahead of me. I lagged far behind, out of sight, as we scaled wooded, snowy hills and ravines, descended them, then hustled back up more ravines, until after three and half hours the dogs treed the lion and I fell down nearly dead from exhaustion. I had caught up though, bringing the camera. Admiring the cat’s fearful symmetry above, we captured her magnificence on video as she peered down contentedly at her physically inferior pursuers below—we humans.

Norm at the time was 55 years old, yet he was running up and down mountain sides like Kip Keino. I was 56, feeling I might die from the challenge, while Norm seemed to address it with ease, having led similar chases many times already that year, and  years prior, his face flush with vigor, his lungs and limbs strong and up to the task.

I have since taken to running, if you can call it that, stretching a bit, and using a contraption in my basement that sat idle for years  called a Total Gym. It’s no gym though, just a slant board with handles and pulleys that lets you pull your weight with a full range of motion (Christie Brinkley, va-va-va-voom, sells one on cable). I don’t work out though, just get the blood flowing and my body moving, spending 15 minutes on the thing per day, for Christie.

Nor do I commit to running for miles, as I did decades ago, the thought being a deterrent to running at all. I merely run enough to get winded then turn back. Over time, you can run longer as your wind improves, and as Norm said, it’s all about wind (not age).

Things have changed though; I don’t feel like an old man. What I’ve found is that the notions people have about aging are largely related to physical inactivity and bad diets. We put junk in our bodies and don’t use them for decades and then say we’re getting old, yet our bodies are meant to be used, and the bad habits take a toll. After years of neglect, a person becomes an old slug, physically and mentally inert, with less life force flowing to brain and body.

The thing that deters us most from using our bodies as they were intended to be used is the thought of exercise. Reject that thought. Fuhghet about it. It’s not about exercise. It’s about wanting to feel and use your body, stretching a bit in the morning (sensing your natural range of motion), doing maybe 25 push ups later, a brief run or fast walk, a few more push ups in the evening (or whatever). Total time, 20 minutes.

Now, after several months, while eating fiber in the a.m. (Oat Bran makes a creamy hot cereal, great with maple syrup) or other  foods on a regular basis that exit the body in 24 hours—va-va-va-voom), no more old man, the kid is back, freed from an illusion brought on by neglect and inertia. A person at just about any stage of life can eventually walk, run, or hike with gusto. With regular modest effort, the body will readily feel youthful, depending on the degree to which you have let yourself go or not—so don’t.

I recall my grandmother in her older years. Her “health” care amounted to being drugged and immobilized for weeks in a hospital. The medical profession can be counterproductive, but good at prescri-bing cocktails of expensive, harmful drugs that burden mind and body. It about ruined the woman physically and psychologically, until her goddaughter, a physical therapist, intervened with actual healthcare. She got her back in the swing (using range of motion exercises, nutrition, getting off the meds, and love). Before that, bedeviled by drugs and prolonged inactivity, my grandmother had wailed that she wanted to die, and she was a stalwart woman.

Wanting to live, and live well, is a better choice—getting in the spirit, blowing the stink off, shaking loose, and having that sense of yourself as a cat in the forest with sinew, agility and brawn. It takes a slight mental adjustment, to get your body right with itself, but it feels really good, though it may take ten days of mild effort before you begin to realize it.

Not to worry, chasing lions is optional.           


 

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