What Have I Got?

Lift your leg up and breathe in; pull your belly button towards your back….” Yes, it was my Pilates class yesterday. I took a wee turn towards the end of the class: a dizzy spell, the trembles, I just didn’t feel quite right. Who would have thought that this breathing business could be such hard going? I’m the youngest in the class by about 20 years, yet I crawled like a gassed soldier (ever-inconspicuous!) to the edge of the hall while the rest of them merrily continued to breathe, twist and lift like a light summer breeze. I sat at the edge of the class feeling deflated and cross with myself. “Why can’t I do this?” asked an internal, irritated voice?

Half an hour later I was out in the fresh air, walking home and almost fully restored. The doubts lingered though, as the voices wittered on inside my head. “Am I up to this? Should I just stick to the walking?” Back home, I had a quick turnaround before I headed out to meet B. and two of her children. I switched on the radio as I buzzed about the kitchen rolling the Pilates mat tight so it would fit in the cupboard, pulling the washing out the machine. From the radio poured the voice of Nina Simone singing: “What have I got nobody can take away?  Got my hair, got my head, got my brains, got my ears, got my eyes, got my nose, got my mouth. I got my smile.” From a song called “Ain’t got no/I got life”, the whole song isn’t a bad philosophy for life: focus on what you’ve got. Too right! I thought, I have got all that. There was Nina reminding me to appreciate what I usually take for granted. It’s so easy for us to focus on lack, on an injury or ailment, on things that aren’t going so well. And it’s also totally understandable, but we should only wallow there for a little while.

Nina made me think about appreciating my body, every little bit of it – my fingers that type each morning, and my bum that I can wiggle as she sings, and my slightly crooked front teeth that can chew food perfectly well. Yet, there I was, half an hour earlier talking it down, berating my body for not doing what I wanted it to. Ok, bits of it don’t work as well as Jessica Ennis-Hill’s, but mostly I plod along just fine. Down at Vicky Baths, my local swimming pool, I see bodies of every shape and size imaginable, and they are all plodding along just fine too. They are all out doing what they can: a couple of lengths, a bit of a stretch, loosening their muscles in the steam room. I won’t give up on Pilates just yet, I might be able to stand on my head one of these days, or is that yoga?

 “You Are Old, Father William”, by Lewis Carroll

“You are old, Father William,” the young man said,

“And your hair has become very white;

And yet you incessantly stand on your head –

Do you think, at your age, it is right?”


“In my youth,” Father William replied to his son,

“I feared it might injure the brain;

But, now that I’m perfectly sure I have none,

Why, I do it again and again.”


“You are old,” said the youth, “as I mentioned before,

And have grown most uncommonly fat;

Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door –

Pray, what is the reason of that?”


“In my youth,” said the sage, as he shook his grey locks,

“I kept all my limbs very supple

By the use of this ointment – one shilling the box –

Allow me to sell you a couple?”


“You are old,” said the youth, “and your jaws are too weak

For anything tougher than suet

Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak –

Pray, how did you manage to do it?”


“In my youth,” said his father, “I took to the law,

And argued each case with my wife;

And the muscular strength, which it gave to my jaw,

Has lasted the rest of my life.”


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