Tammy Goedken, part 5
In the last installment of episode 1 with Tammy Goedken, we had a few more thoughts about the meditative and empowering qualities that adult gymnastics offers. We also compared the experience to some other fitness activities we’ve done.
I asked Tammy a simple question: Why do you love gymnastics?
She had a simple answer: I don’t know.
My parents took me into a gym when I was 7 years old. We were in Tallahasee, Florida and they had a program that was really, really cheap. (Which is not gymnastics today.) I looked at the gym. They said, ‘do you want to do this?’ and my eyes were big [she gasps] ‘Yeah!’ There was no looking back. I don’t know what it was, but it was instant.
Looking a little closer at the sport, Tammy identified a few things that keep drawing her in year after year, especially as an adult.
- The feeling of flight. We experience this when we launch ourselves on the trampoline or over a stack of barrels, and we use our own power to do so. We don’t need an engine or wings to help us get there; it’s all done with our bodies and minds.
- The feeling of control. On the beam, she doesn’t get the feeling of flight, but everything she does is calculated, planned and carefully executed on a 4-inch piece of wood, 4 feet off the floor. She loves the aesthetic of beauty and elegance that is created on each apparatus. Doing work on the floor is also and exercise in control. Try holding a handstand for more than 2 seconds.
- The feeling of fun. We talked more about this in part 4. It’s so much fun.
We rounded out our conversation with a few more thoughts about the sport.
Gymnastics is meditation
Some people love yoga or sitting and meditating to find their sense of peace. While they are excellent ways to achieve some Zen (and we both practice when we can), Tammy and I find that feeling of centering and self-regulation when we are at the gym. She summed it up beautifully:
I love it now because it’s almost like an alternate reality. This is a stressful world that we live in and it doesn’t show any signs of changing. It’s very easy to get caught in the rat race of your life. The gym is my sanctuary. When you’re working on a skill, there’s no room in your head for anything else. So it doesn’t matter what bad is going on in my personal life. When I get to the gym, it doesn’t matter what kind of mental load is on me. The minute I’m in the gym and I’m working on something, all of that goes away. It’s the best meditation I’ve ever seen. You cannot be in the air doing a flip and worrying about your taxes. It’s like a mini-vacation.Tammy Goedken
For us, gymnastics is the best form of self-care. When we have to miss a class, we are instantly planning the next time we’ll get to flip. I’d call it an addiction, but that puts a negative connotation to the fix. Instead, I’ll chalk it up to the most effective self-care practice we’ve found. It makes us smile, feel accomplished, achieve personal goals, work on challenges, break barriers, and it builds a supportive community. Our bodies may be sore afterwards, but our minds are healed.
Gymnastics is empowering
In addition to the meditative aspect, gymnastics is also one of the most empowering activities I’ve ever done, which is probably the most compelling reason that I come back time after time. There’s a “Hulk-Smash” feeling I get when I summon all of my strength to complete a difficult skill and land on my feet. It’s not out of anger, rather it is an internal force that I have called up from the depths of my being. You jump a little higher, tuck a little tighter, fly a little longer, and that’s where the progress happens.
Of course, progress isn’t linear, we aren’t as consistent as we’d like, and we don’t always land on our feet. Despite the frustration that we invariably feel when we fall, we are still gifted with being present, in the gym space, working to our capacity for the day. Eventually, all the pieces will fit into place and we will stick the landing. When you put your mind to the task, make your plans and execute your intention, there’s no more powerful feeling like sticking the landing.
When that happens, there is a moment of being pleasantly surprised, even though our success shouldn’t come as a surprise; we’ve done all the work to achieve the goal. But again, we are always fighting through our inconsistencies, so we have come to expect the failures and gleefully celebrate the successes. There is power in that fight.
Tammy and I also agree with this: we’re pretty cool for being adult gymnasts.
How does gymnastics match up with other fitness activities we’ve done?
We have both dabbled in running the roads, but neither of us stuck to it. We have even both completed a half-marathon (she ran hers; I walked, ran and walked again during mine) just to say we did it, but neither of us have experienced the “runner’s high” meditative state that we’ve heard is a thing (we don’t believe it actually exists). To us, when we start running, we are always thinking about when we will be able to stop. Gymnastics is more appealing to us because it happens in bursts; we pour all of our energy and focus into a single skill or combination, then take a mental and physical rest before we try the next one. Also, taking a video of running = not so interesting. Recording a round-off-back handspring-straddle front tuck = super impressive.
Tammy asked me how gymnastics compares to dance. I started dancing in my early teens and have been teaching since my early 20s. I could easily avail myself of adult dance classes. I used to, but I don’t anymore.
Dance provides a wonderful, creative opportunity to express yourself through extended movement phrases. There’s a beautiful connection between the body, mind and spirit that you don’t get anywhere else. It requires similar strength, flexibility, balance, coordination, and agility to gymnastics. As much as I love dance, and have for so many years, I no longer get the same feeling as I do at the gym.
Gymnastics, for me, seems to play directly into the problem-solving portion of my brain. I like figuring out what’s going wrong and working on strategies to fix it. There’s a lot that goes wrong, and I alone am responsible for making the fixes work. While there is a small creative component, gymnastics is not as stressful for me as dance, because as a choreographer and teacher, there’s a huge responsibility to create and teach others the choreography. At the gym, everything is in smaller bits and bursts, and the only one I need to teach is myself. Even when I coach, the focus is on the safety and technical form for one skill at a time. It’s a lot less stressful in the execution.
While we do aspire to achieve movement combinations, the memory piece is not as challenging as when I’m remembering choreography. Tammy and I have developed our new Geriatric Gymnastics motto whilst on the trampoline: if you land straight, do another skill. Chuck it! Maybe it doesn’t reach the level of performance art and storytelling of dance, but it serves a very different kind of calling for me.
In addition, even though gymnastics is a more intense strength experience, I don’t sustain the same repetitive stress injuries that I do when I’m teaching or dancing. I’m sure it has to do with the bouncy surfaces that absorb impact vs. jumping and rolling around on the hard floor, demonstrating the same skills over and over again. My body just doesn’t appreciate that anymore. But, I could rebound on the trampoline all day long.
If there’s one thing we want to stress about gymnastics, it’s this: it’s not just for kids. More and more adults are trying it, posting their stuff, working through the failures and celebrating their successes. We have to be smart, use caution, and understand where we are in the moment. If we are healthy, there’s no reason not to start.