The “No”


It’s the societal gift that keeps on giving: The broader the waistline, the heavier the burden of guilt you carry.

It’s almost impossible to avoid it. People who are overweight don’t just feel bad for how they look – they also feel huge guilt for how they DON’T look. And yes, those are two different things – because regret is bad, but shame is corrosive.

So once I make a plan to recapture my health, I must not only find the strength to change long-ingrained habits… I also have to overcome the shame and fear that I’ll screw this up AGAIN. Won’t keep up with it – won’t remember how long real change takes – won’t have the fortitude and sisu to keep going when the SIT DOWN gene proves dominant over the GET UP gene.

In the middle of this constant, epic warfare being waged deep in the lizard part of my brain, I came down with a cold.

No, it’s not the coronavirus. I ain’t afraid o’ no COVID-19! No, this was just a run-of-the-mill cold. Scratchy throat, low energy, a mighty freight of fluids where fluids should not be (my nose is raw from all the blowing and wiping).

Every single human in the world has worked through a cold. Most simply have no choice. You feel crappy, but the work has to get done. Yes, maybe you’ll infect co-workers and that’s a shame, but if the bills have to be paid, then you saddle up and stuff fistfuls of Kleenex in every pocket.

But not me. I’m fortunate enough to have retired. No nine-to-five for me. The only thing I had on my schedule for Monday… and Tuesday…. and Wednesday… were appointments with Barbara and Tracy and Chip and the geniuses at Body Dynamics in Falls Church, VA.

(Oh – and also a visit to the oral surgeon who put in one of my molar implants; he wants to conduct something called a “torque test” which involves him putting a tiny little screwdriver into my mouth – I envision one of those little hex wrenches from Ikea – to tug on the implant and see if he can shift it in the bone or not. That’s bizarre and kind of creepy and also very cool; I’m sort of longing to see what THAT feels like. If it doesn’t turn, it means my jaw bone has healed over the screw and it will be time to hang the fake molar on the screw, and YES PLEASE, I’m sick of having no good chewing grinders; there’s a second hole waiting for a screw on the other side of my mouth too, and can this parenthetical aside go on for any longer??)

I certainly don’t want to infect those healthy people. (Or the oral surgeon; probably not as robust with good health as the trainers at BDI – on the other hand, he’ll practically be inside my mouth and it just seems rude to open wide while I’m crawling with cold germs. I’ll reschedule that guy.)

It would be humiliating to be the reason that Barbara had a red nose and had to stall her Boston Marathon training. (Every day she goes out, in freezing rain or bitter cold, to race like a gazelle across the veldt before the sun comes up; her commitment is terrifying and makes me want to take a nap immediately on her behalf.)

And what if long, lean Chip was suddenly wracked by body-jarring sneezes? Could I demand that he continue to provide guidance to unfit people while he clutches a big cardigan miserably around his graceful body?


So the only smart thing to do is to cancel the appointments, stay home, sniff and whine in the emptiness of my house, infect no one else at all. Rest. Recuperate. Guestimate just how many boxes of Kleenex I can go through. (Spoiler alert: A lot.)

BUT EPIC WARFARE IS WAGING IN THE LIZARD BRAIN. By the rocket’s red glare, we see the Shame Army rallying on a distant hill – a bold flag-holder waving a banner and screaming ONWARD YOU BASTARDS!

If I don’t work out for an entire week, aren’t I liable to simply freeze into a recumbent posture and refuse to ever get up again?? How will I pry myself from the warm embryo of the sick room to venture forth into the icy blackness of the Real World? If I stop – will I be able to start again?? Shame is shrieking: You’re a loser! You always give up! That’s why you look the way you do!! WHY DID YOU THINK THIS TIME WOULD BE ANY DIFFERENT??

Good lord. Pass the Kleenex.

I’m trusting the habits I’ve built up over the past three and a half years. I know that Barbara is likely to come to my house and drag me out by my hair if I give up now.

So I’m going to give my body time to heal… and then I’ll be back at it. It takes great courage to say “yes” to things that scare or alarm you. Sometimes it takes even more guts to say “no.”

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I know it’s sexist to say it, but it’s been my experience that most men don’t agonize over every decision this way; it seems to be a predominantly female trait to imagine bloodthirsty warfare when wondering if you should cancel an appointment with the trainer or not. I wonder… it must be so PEACEFUL to be a guy.



I lay belly-down over a foam roller, doing my best to be wet, slaggy pasta draped over a dowel.

This is, I hasten to assure you, not a comfortable position.

Think of it. You’re lying prone on a mat. Your hands are crossed under your head. The goal is to simply be – to feel gravity pulling you down. This is not a high-sweat exercise…

…but alas, under the softest, most vulnerable part of your belly is a six-inch round, three-foot-long hard cylinder. The soft and fluffy word “foam” in the foam roller’s name is A DAMNED LIE.

This was myofascial stretch class at Body Dynamics. The goal is to un-thicken the fascia – this mysterious, doctor-scoffed connective tissue that only massage experts seem to understand.

What – you say you’ve never heard of fascia, much less seen it? Not so. The last time you cooked a chicken breast, you had your mitts all over the fascia – that super-thin white layer that wraps the meat. Thin… but very tough.

And fascia can get thick. Fascia DOES get thick. It should be liquid and pliable – compliant and kind. But if something is wrong (you injured a muscle; you didn’t work a muscle; you ate too much sugar AHEM), the fascia solidifies.

And fascia is EVERYWHERE in your body. It’s in your brain. It’s around every nerve, and around every nerve bundle. It’s around your muscles and IN your muscles. And like a hive mind, it’s all connected to each other. You loosen up the fascia over here – it might very well ease the tension WAY over there.

Really, it’s astonishing that medical doctors just don’t seem to be very interested in fascia. The neurologist I saw when I was diagnosed (I believe incorrectly) with Guillam-Barre disease – this smart, educated woman ROLLED HER EYES when I told her I thought I had something going wrong in the fascia. “Hm. Yes. I see,” she said and turned back to her computer, disinterested.

Doctors don’t specialize in fascia. There’s no fasciologist. They just don’t seem to care about it. It’s the strangest thing.

So – back to the foam roller. Another place where fascia is – and another place where pliant, liquid fascia can become tough and hard – is in the abdomen.  And you CAN encourage the fascia to re-liquify…

…by applying relentless pressure for three to five minutes.

So if you want to release the fascia in your shoulder, you lie on a tennis ball exactly where that is most exquisitely uncomfortable, and then you continue to lie there, trying not to watch the clock and sinking into the pain. And after three to five minutes, the fascia will give up. It will go liquid again. You’ll be able to move into that point more easily.

And abdominal fascia is no different. Hence lying painfully over the foam roller while gentle Tracey, the kind and implacable masseuse instructress, walks us through the quiet, helpless agony of the belly.

Yesterday was my first time at myofascial stretch class; I wasn’t able to last the full time on my belly – and in fact, I had to move the roller closer to my hip bones and away from all that vulnerable, squishy, strongly-objecting intestinal tangle. And it took forever to relax the abdominal muscles Barbara has spent three years building up, which were doing their damnedest to protect my viscera…

…but eventually I was stretched out flaccid and gasping over the foam roller.

What happened?

Nothing. I had to raise up on my elbows pretty quickly. Everyone needs goals – mine will be building up the tolerance to endure the foam roller grinding into my abdominal cavity.

(Surely, I thought – surely this can’t be a good idea? Should I REALLY be crushing my internal organs like this?? But that’s defeatist talk. I have become an acolyte at the church and school of fascia; I can do this. Maybe next week. PROBABLY next week.)

As she guides us through these utterly easy and brutally forceful stretches, Tracey advises us to “find the restrictions – find where you’re not moving well.” She calls these tough places restrictions because the fascia is restricting movement.

And as I lay there grimacing, I decided I just LOVED that word. It implies that it’s not ME who’s been too lazy to remain fit and limber – it’s that pesky fascia that must be brought back into line. It’s been RESTRICTING me, damn it!

Why, if it wasn’t for the fascia holding me back, I’d probably be playing beach volleyball in a tight Lycra shirt and boy-short underwear. Yeah. Those fascial restrictions have a LOT to answer for!

So now I’m thinking about my health challenges (like – OH MY GOD WHO COULD POSSIBLY LIKE TO RUN THIS IS THE UTTEREST HELL I COULD SUMMON AN UBER IN TWO MINUTES SHALL I? WHY NOT??) in terms of what is restricting me – not as much in terms of what I’m failing at.

It’s a simple change… but powerful. Like a myofascial stretch.

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O if only I didn’t have fascial restrictions – this would be me. Don’t you see??



What kind of old lady are you planning on being?

(I understand that occasionally a non-female casts an eye over this blog; I apologize for my gender-based lead. It’s safe to keep reading; there are no discussions of ovaries or menstruation or the detritus that winds up at the bottom of the purse that makes the mens so uncomfortable.)

As far as I can tell, you can be the terrifying, revered old lady who masterminds plots and overthrows governments. Judi Dench in the Bond movies. (You know – before they bumped her off, of course.)

Or you can be hunched over and sweet, toddling around offering butterscotchies from the depths of a capacious handbag and pinching the cheeks of long-suffering grandchildren.

Me, I have a hankering to stride around the retirement community, smelling vaguely of chlorine from lap-swimming and signing up for all the trips to the Kennedy Center. I want a vigorous old age. More, I want a comparatively SUPPLE old age.

So when Barbara and Chip combined their superpowers to expand my thoracic flexibility, I was wide-eyed in eager astonishment.

Let’s review the bidding: Barbara and Chip are both trainers at Body Dynamics in Falls Church, Virginia – a remarkable place. I see two trainers there each week – Barbara (a guru) works on the global muscles and Chip (a former dancer who, despite his history, remains grounded and charming if somewhat in the Torquemada tradition) works on the stabilizer muscles… and they talk to each other. It’s terrifying; there are aspects of my body that they know far better than I do.

And as for thoracic flexibility, that’s the part of your spine you didn’t realize was supposed to bend that way.

(I adore the word “thorax.” That’s something that only bugs have – as intoned by Mr. Domizio in tenth grade biology. “This is the abdomen of the beetle; this is the thorax. Pru – pay attention! What did I just say?” “Ummm…?”)

When the handsome man sweeps you into a graceful waltz (you living a more exciting life than me), his hand is resting on your lumbar spine. That part of the backbone curves inward.

When he slides his hand beneath your hair to your neck to draw you in for that first dewy kiss, he’s caressing your cervical spine. (He’s an anatomical kind of guy – so romantic.)

(He gets to the sacrum later that night – that’s between you and him.)

Betwixt the cervical and the lumbar is the largest part of the backbone – the thoracic spine. It curves outward. All your chest muscles are hooked to it; it feels stable and powerful. And in my experience, it’s not an area that gives the body a lot of problems.

My husband had a grave affliction between his lumbar and sacral spine that caused him to bitch a lot about his bad back – many people have this issue, I’ve discovered. That part of the spine needs an upgrade in Human 2.0 – there are design flaws in the current program.

And problems with the cervical spine – as when you’re put into a cervical collar – are The Big Bad.

But the thorax? It just goes about its business, immobile and stoic. Giving no one any problems. Slowly, slowly over the years hunching ever further forward.


It’s SUPPOSED to bend the other way! You should be able to straighten that outward curve into a straight line (or something, at least, that feels like a straight line to me).

No, really. I know – it makes the brain hurt to consider it, doesn’t it?

I spend my life hunched over a computer. (Either that or rolling my eyes at Chip or Barbara.) My thoracic spine is helping – by curling forward. The problem is, if you curl that spine forward all the time, it loses the ability to curl back upright. The result?

Dowager hump.

Just like that – you’re not overthrowing governments; you’re fishing butterscotchies from the lint at the bottom of your bag. And that ain’t on MY agenda.

So every day, I stand with my back to the wall with a foam roller along the length of my spine. I arch backwards over the top of it. How far up, you ask?  Put the top of the foam roller EXACTLY where your spine doesn’t arch backwards.

Because what that means is that it doesn’t arch backwards ANYMORE from that spot – it used to, but it doesn’t now. You can reverse the trend, but it takes time to get flexibility back, and you can lose it again lickety-split. (Stressful days – the kind that make you ignore the exercises – conspire to pull you forward again. It’s insidious – a conspiracy. Probably created by some upright old lady with a master plan.)

I actually move the foam roller up and down. I bend backwards and hold it three times – then move the roller up a bit and do it four times – and then a final three times a little higher than that. After doing this for a few weeks, I’ve gotten to the point where I can feel a stretch in my pecs when I do it – the chest muscles. That means I’m actually bending the spine the way it no longer wants to bend. Yay, me!

The other day after hours of frantic computer-sitting, I found myself stretching my thorax. “What are you doing?” asked my astonished friend Kevin in his soft, high, gay man’s West Virginia accent. To be fair, I did look odd – like I was trying to push my breast bone to the ceiling and holding the pose in frozen concentration. “Thorax,” I said with a sigh. “Damned Barbara has loosened up a part of me that never minded a stressful day before and now I know when it’s tight again.”

Yes, I profaned the name of my Wizard of the Body, and I apologize. I make up for it by giving her full credit for enabling my world domination well into my 90s.


This is me attempting to demo the thoracic spine stretch on the foam roller. Mostly it’s me trying to figure out how to hold the phone in one hand AND take an actual photo. The results speak for themselves. Sorry about that!