Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Who wants to wrap my ankle?

As I was working out yesterday, with my iPod in my ears, I was repeatedly brought out of my world of the "Bright Eyes" by random shouts mixed with laughter coming from the man on the treadmill next to me. Was he suffering from a spell of mental instability? Maybe. Or he was just reacting to the sumo wrestling tournament on the TV? Intrigued, I began watching these very very large men in loincloths doing various rituals before a 10 second match which would end with one of them painfully hitting the dirt. And then the defeated wrestler would (I think) offer water to his opponent before bowing and leaving the stadium. In one particular match, a defeated giant of a man was crying as he walked to the locker room. I am sure this says a lot about Japanese character and that there have been numerous sociological studies done with sumo wrestling and the national psyche, but I am not going to focus on that just yet. Instead, I realized that I had become accustomed to such behavior after three months of working out the in the gym and the next day I would definitely make mental notes of every bizarre thing that I saw during my time on the treadmill. This post is dedicated to the man perched on the stationery bike with his legs on the bar and his shirt pulled up on one side and stuck on a roll of fat, watching the wrestling with rapt attention and head cocked to one side like Forrest Gump.

First. The fashions. I personally dig these weight-loss suits designed to maximize your sweating during a grueling walk on the treadmill. I am positive that if I were to don one of these outfits, within ten minutes I would be passed out. The gym is kept at a boiling temperature (also, presumably, to aid in sweating), and my face turns red before I even start my workout. Within ten minutes, it looks like Frosty the Snowman melted beneath me. Today, this younger fellow who always shows up at 5:15 was wearing a new plastic suit in black instead of his characteristic navy blue. Must have been a Christmas present. You will also see more shorts of the spandex variety in my Okinawan gym, as well as two-piece leotards complete with unmatching, teal, spotted leggings.

Long ago, the medical community realized that simply shaking your body doesn't really burn fat and make you a lean, mean, workout machine. Apparently, my gym and gym-goers never got the memo because on any given day you will see a man or woman strapped into a contraption like that above, getting their back, butt, stomach, legs, thrown to and fro. And it isn't pretty. Even someone with a very low body fat percentage would still have the jiggles with this machine. Now imagine slightly overweight folks in unflattering gym clothes having their fat shaking like --- cliche as it is --- jello. That's what it looks like. And the machine was only allowed to rest five minutes today by my calculations. Where does the line form?

Remember these massagers that came in and out of style about ten years ago? I am happy to report that the gym does not have a shelf full of such massagers. However, they do have a machine that has many wooden balls that rotate quickly. I would watch people sitting there for fifteen minutes at a time and wonder whether this foot and calf massage was really "that great." One day when it was finally free, I braved the foot roller. And it tickled. Tremendously. It was a bit too much, but a few days later, I tried again and absolutely loved it. In fact, once your feet have had all the kinks rolled out of them, you can slouch down in the chair, throw your head back with the iPod on a relaxing song, and get your calves, thighs, and if you are really limber, your butt too. I can sit there all day. Some people cross to the other side of the machine and put their back against it, but I could just see my hair getting tangled with all of the rolling mechanisms. That would be something. As I walked into the gym today, there was a lady bent over the machine getting her stomach kinks worked out...rump in the air. Then she turned and sat in order to properly massage her behind.

And what sweaty gym experience would be complete without the ultimate accessory? A mug of tea. Forget Gatorade.

All of these things must work in some way, though, because Okinawa has the most centenarians in the world. That's the over-100 age range for you. And that is something to be proud of.

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