Monday, March 23, 2015

Reaching Out for a Better Day with "Sit and Be Fit"

Hark! The online comments sing. Glory to the eternal flame of sass, the everlasting calves, the comfort and joy of the mobility impaired—the only woman about whom the internet has nothing and will never have anything bad to say.

Today we're spending time with Mary Ann Wilson, RN, of the long-running program "Sit and Be Fit." Like all titans of public television—Bob Ross, Julia Child, Kermit the Frog—this lady was niche-branding herself long before the first Angelfire fanfic site ever plastered ungainly type across an animated wallpaper. With kind twinkling eyes, rosy cheeks (blush game on fleek, always), and the legs of an MGM hoofer, Mary Ann Wilson embodies the indomitable spirit of the body electric. Be you wheelchair-bound, waylaid by injury, or merely very lazy, "Sit and Be Fit" is here to inspire your slowly calcifying form toward kinesis.

And decent kinesis it is! I've given Ms. Wilson her due before, here, but, like most of the able-bodied population, my only experience with "Sit and Be Fit" consisted of watching with a dopey grin for a few minutes while channel surfing, perhaps trying a few moves if feeling puckish, because WhaT a gAS! 

This time, I came to "Sit and Be Fit" hashtag-authentically, with two bum feet and three weeks in post-surgical boots, which are like little boats that buoy your standing weight up into your hips instead of through your feet. Or something. The first week, my walking pace was that of my grandma's at 91, and my condition generated lots of enjoyable sympathy and Vicodin and people fetching me things. Fresh off the painkikis, walking felt like moving around a slack bag of bones formed from petrified Olive Garden breadsticks. 

Now, I've got a nifty peg-leg swag walk and I go down stairs backwards because it's faster. I can take the boots off as long as I'm not standing, which puts me so patently in the show's target demographic that I'd be a lax ambassador of sass indeed if I didn't seize upon SABF's fresh relevance to my current life experiences.

If I wanted to be truly auth, I could catch the show on my local PBS station any weekday at 7 or 8:30 a.m. Ms. Lady has her shit together on the informational front: even the most tech-befuddled senior would be able to look up local showtimes on her website. Her press kit? A marvel of old-school PR–new media synergy, occupying 12 neatly laid-out, web-friendly pdf pages. Here are some fun facts about the program:

  • The show operates as a nonprofit and has been on the air for nearly 30 years, since 1987.
  • It tapes in Spokane, WA. 
  • Mississippi and Alabama do not air "Sit and Be Fit" at all. Of course.
  • Mary Ann's daughter, Gretchen, often joins her to demonstrate modifications. Kewt!
  • When she was a young RN, Mary Ann specialized in post-polio rehabilitation. 
  • Aerobics got her through her husband's death. MY HEART.

As I am incapable of rising early to catch the broadcast, I turned to the few episodes available in full on YouTube. My selection, "Engaging the Pelvic Floor," had my number: I love workin' on my taint!

Also known as pee-pee muscles, or what you're working when you do kegels, 
or, as illustrated by this NSFW pic, what makes your dick curve upward when erect

Mary Ann starts by introducing her helpers for the session, which is nice of her. 

Then we get into some knee lifts and leg extensions . . . 

. . . and finish the warm-up with a gentle foot massage, which was perfect for my tore-up frankenweenies. Somehow, Mary Ann knew it was time for me to start cajoling them back into fine action. 

We proceed to the pelvic floor in the best way possible, by feeling up our butts. "Locating the sits bones," she says, sure, but as we rock from cheek to cheek, riding along on the beautiful heiney sea, we are reminded of the miracle of human evolution, a multimillion-year process that yielded dumpling-shaped flesh cushions attached to our posteriors. What a wonderful world!

This booty action warms up the undercarriage and prepares us for the pelvic floor exercises, which Mary Ann explains in a top-drawer use of kinetic imagery: as you contract, visualize the sits bones getting closer together. That's what actually happens in there, on a very tiny scale, and it's something I hadn't really been able to understand, despite reading approximately 24 pages of a conditioning guide called Pelvic Power years ago. Mary Ann's explanation gave me a bit of a eureka moment, one made all the sweeter by occurring in communion with my bum.

After the ass play comes the first aerobic section, where we walk our feet out and in—a seated box step. After three weeks cut off from aerobics, I was there for it. I also wished my socks were as slouchy-cute as hers.

Let's take a moment to appreciate Ms. Wilson's face-giving skills: smiley but not plastic, sweet as a snickerdoodle and calmly perky. Her Clara Bow eyebrows, always expressing some gentle affection, are practically support staff. 

Then she does this cute knee raise, which is harder than it looks. Can she help it if it happens to make her shapely legs look even shapelier? No, she cannot.

During the finger-articulation exercises, I gave thanks for my non-arthritic hands, despite a long-running finger-popping compulsion. (Apparently, science says my mom is wrong—knuckle popping does not promote arthritis later in life—but I still don't 100% believe it.)

She also has you work your finger and hand muscles by pretending your rolled-up towel is a ball of dough that you are kneading, which is an analogy I can get excited about.

It continues like this, alternating between the lightest of aerobic movements—there's a salsa portion, of course—and targeted conditioning and flexibility exercises.

After some standing or seated stretches, Ms. Wilson makes time for a meditative moment, wherein we cross our elbows and sway our arms like we're hugging the whole world. It feels incredibly comforting.

Then, in the style of the great "Rhythmics," we're treated to some serene nature footage while Mary Ann takes us home: "While you're flying along, think about all the people in your life who bless your life, and send blessings to them. You're going to such beautiful places on this trip. Keep reaching out with us for a better day." 

I shall, Ms. Wilson. 

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