Friday, October 31, 2008

Sweating, Italian-style

When it comes to exercise, Italians don’t like to suffer too much. You’ll never see an Italian walking around town with sweaty clothes, matted hair or even a complete exercising ensemble (White sneakers are all the rage, but to be worn with ironed jeans). How they can look so good (for the most part) with such little exercise is one of the mysteries of this oftentimes contradiction-rich culture. Could be the diet or the balanced lifestyle or maybe it just boils down to good genes.

Although my skin is olive-toned (I’m 50% Italian), when it comes to exercise I am, without a doubt, 100% American. After about two weeks in Pisa, my living room routine of sloppy yoga poses, stretching and a few sit-ups was no longer doing the trick. I needed help. I needed a gym! I craved yoga, endorphins and sweat! Back in Charlottesville, I practice Bikram at Bikram Yoga Charlottesville : 90 minutes in a 110 degree room working on every muscle, tendon and ligament in my entire body. Bikram both exhausting and exhilarating, both relaxing and empowering. For me and apparently so many others, it really does the trick.

Needless to say, Bikram is not big in Italy. In fact, when I explained it to a group of students at a Hatha Yoga class I tried here in Pisa, they were completely horrified. All of that sweating can’t be healthy, they said. How can you stand it, and why would you? (Granted, a lot of my Virginia friends say the same thing until they try it for themselves). Even Laura, the yoga instructor, hadn’t heard of Bikram (didn’t the Romans invent the sudarium?), nor did she know of anywhere I could practice the more athletic-styles of yoga like Ashtanga or Vinyasa.

As I discovered during several free trial classes, Italian Yoga tends to involve 60 or 90 minutes of lying on your back practicing breathing. Maybe a child’s pose or two, but never a triangle, proud warrior or even a downward dog. Surrounded by sock-wearing Italians who’d never practiced yoga before and who had no intentions of doing anything but relaxing, I, a rather inflexible and relatively novice yoga practitioner suddenly became the most advanced yogini in all of Pisa, if not Tuscany. Incredibile!

Although a bit of meditative breathing could do me no harm, I finally decided to enroll in a Pilates mat class taught by a fantastic and very demanding Italian, André Sousa, at the Centro Nagual. Pilates is something I’d always been meaning to try in Charlottesville, but it took a sabbatical in Pisa (and the lack of much anything else resembling exercise here) to get me started. In addition to (Hatha) yoga and Pilates, Nagual also offers Tango, contact improvisation, juggling, African drums and belly dancing in its bright and warm studio near tree-rimmed Piazza Caterina. As the temperatures start to drop here and I spend more and more time at my desk, I am thankful for these opportunities to breathe out loud, stretch my muscles and have some fun. But I’m also glad that, when all else fails, I can put on my running shoes and jog along the Arno river, sweating, happy and alone in my Lycra.

1 comment:

j e t s e t WISDOM said...

Great article, and ringing so true! Although, I'm thinking that Santa Maria del Sole is Italy's new answer to Yoga retreats, as witnessed on my trip, in May. I'm working on a blogpost for this as we speak!! Thanks for the follower....