Benefits of Gardening As Exercise
Yard work can be a great way to keep your body fit and healthy. It offers an all-body workout that combines lifting, raking, and carrying heavy items around the yard.
It can also be a stress reliever and a great way to take a break from your busy schedule. Studies have shown that spending time in a garden can improve your mood and reduce anxiety.
If you’ve never done a handstand, let me paint a picture of what it can feel like at the beginning: There’s panic (or at least there was for me, someone who grew out of gymnastic potential in the seventh grade when I hit five feet, ten inches). Balancing your body weight on your hands is, in the most basic sense, foreign. Your fingers suddenly have to act like toes. Your legs flail in their newfound weightless oblivion. Your sympathetic nervous system—which controls the fight, flight, or freeze response—can get activated by the perceived danger of the situation. Your chest tightens, and it gets harder to breathe.
In other words, it’s terrifying.
If you’ve never come out as trans, let me paint a picture of what it can feel like at the beginning: There’s panic (or at least there was for me, a 27-year-old who suddenly felt like I had to start life all over again). Balancing my questions about coming out (am I really doing this?) with my certainty (I absolutely have to do this!) felt like I was playing a particularly aggressive game of mental tennis most days. It left me winded. I was flailing in a newfound weightless oblivion. For months, my sympathetic nervous system made it harder to breathe.
No matter the circumstances, flipping your world upside down doesn’t happen easily.
* * *
I had never felt truly comfortable in my body, but lately, it had been a bizarrely foreign entity, an alien encounter each time I looked in the mirror.
May, 2021: The world isn’t fully upside down, but the horizon isn’t exactly level. When I started flirting with the idea of transitioning, it felt like the whole world was changing with me. The months leading up to my coming out as transgender coincided with springtime, the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, and a broader societal reopening that meant the return of activities we had largely abandoned in 2020. Yoga had been a part of my daily routine pre-pandemic, and one day a teacher whose classes I used to frequent asked if I would be interested in working with her back in the studio, demonstrating the poses she taught for online and in-person students.
In exchange for demoing, I’d get free unlimited yoga classes. My body, aching and stagnant from months of working from home in a less-than-ergonomic IKEA chair, told me to say yes. But saying yes meant two things: I had to practice in the middle of the room instead of my preferred back corner, and there would be a lot of eyes on me, making it impossible for me to continue skulking around the place unnoticed. The eyes gave me pause.
I had never felt truly comfortable in my body, but lately, it had been a bizarrely foreign entity, an alien encounter each time I looked in the mirror. I had recently shaved my head, and I felt exposed everywhere I went. The yoga uniform—leggings and a tank top—would only heighten the sensation that I’d left the house half-finished somehow. In the abundance of private time carved out by the pandemic, I was experimenting with new hairstyles, new clothes, new ways of moving. I felt like I was unboxing and assembling a new version of myself in real-time—and now I would be inviting other people to watch on camera as I fumbled with the provided allen key and the mini wrench, potentially making a fool of myself if I couldn’t parse through the unintelligible instructions for being a whole person.
Then again, free yoga. My desire for both a deal and a reason to leave the house every once in a while won out. I set a goal: I’d use these classes to learn if I could do something I never believed I could do before. A proof of concept, if you will.
Before the pandemic, I had wanted so badly to be able to handstand. In yoga, I watched, covetous and profusely sweating, as people around me in class pointed their toes skyward and inverted. You probably have to be born that way, I used to think. But certain gender-related questions I was having made me want to prove myself wrong. I wanted to believe that what we are born as is not all we are, or all we can be.
* * *
My handstand was a work in progress, and I had to fail, publicly and frequently, if I ever wanted to hold it.
To hold a steady handstand in yoga, you have to do something called “hitting your stack.” It’s when your hips line up over your shoulders, your shoulders over your wrists, all your joints “stacked” on top of each other like interlocking Lincoln Logs. From that stable foundation, you can hold handstands longer and with more control.
Finding my stack was hard. I spent months with my hands planted on the mat, kicking my feet up, catching air for a few seconds, toppling over. Awkward half-cartwheels. Loud crashes. A kick to the face for more than one bystander. I’m not sure “graceful” has a strong enough antonym to describe my first lurches toward a world flipped upside down. I fumbled and tumbled and generally made a fool of myself in the studio most evenings in front of a roomful of people.
But in the process of trying to find my stack, I became less self-conscious. I had to. My handstand was a work in progress, and I had to fail, publicly and frequently, if I ever wanted to hold it. I had to be willing to display an imperfect product each and every time I stepped on my mat.
Which is why, after months of showing off one imperfect product, the yoga studio was the first place I debuted another: My name.
* * *
“Have you ever considered a different name?”
Cole, a shortening of my old last name, fell out so quickly that it took me by surprise. It felt so natural, like my body sighing and settling into something more comfortable.
That night in my journal, I covered a full page with my name, written over and over like a prayer.
It was another trans person who asked me this question on a Wednesday in November, half a year after I started demoing. The Wednesday part doesn’t matter so much—I just want to convey that this was an average day, the middle of the week, a time when you don’t expect extraordinary things to happen but sometimes they do anyway.
When I look back decades from now, I imagine that this otherwise unremarkable Wednesday will stick with me as one of the most important days of my life, because everything after stems from that one little question. Have you ever considered…? is such a powerful way to begin an exploration of your identity. It implied a level of choice over my body and my being that I didn’t even realize I had, let alone understand I could wield. That night in my journal, I covered a full page with my name, written over and over like a prayer. Could it be that easy? I wondered. Could I really be who I wanted to be?
Handstands and transitioning brought up the same fear: that I was just plain too old for this s**t. I’m 27, I told myself. My prefrontal cortex is fully developed and the steady low back pain of adulthood has already descended upon me. The ship for major changes seemed to have sailed, years ago and at a fast clip away from shore. I believed that what I had been capable of up to that point in my life was who I was, and would be.
So many of the trans people I saw around me had known this about themselves since they were children. They had gone through hormone replacement therapy, surgeries, and name changes in their younger years, when puberty was a convenient mask for the general awkwardness of transitioning. Similarly, so many of the people I saw hitting their handstands in yoga classes were people who had done this for decades. They were former gymnasts and cheerleaders and tumbling prodigies whose after-school activities provided them with a muscle memory for all sorts of bodily contortions.
The world, teetering at a seasick angle for months, finally tipped, gloriously, upside down.
Put simply, it’s daunting to try new things as an adult. We live in a culture that celebrates prodigies. We’re encouraged to brand ourselves, early and with certainty, and to stick to what we know. When I changed my name, I agonized over how and when to tell people about it in a way that wouldn’t be, well—weird. I joked that the Official Trans Handbook (not a thing) should have a better guide for this. Was there a mandatory minimum waiting period that I had to try out a name in my head before debuting it more broadly? Did I have to summon a council of more experienced trans people to give my new name the stamp of approval? What the hell was I supposed to tell the lady at the Chinese food restaurant where I’m a regular, who enthusiastically greets me by my old name every time I call in my order?
That first time I used my name in public inspired in me the panic I associate with someone trying to pass off a microwaved jar of Prego as a laboriously simmered bolognese. Surely someone in this yoga studio would be skeptical and call me on my bluff. Someone would know that I had only just thought of this name a week ago, that this idea wasn’t particularly well thought out for something so significant—that there was no way it could actually be mine.
“I have a quick announcement,” I said before class, my voice shaking only a little. “I’m going through a transition, and I’d really appreciate if you could use my new name, Cole, and they/them pronouns.”
No one seemed to care that I was generally unsure about everything, or that I hadn’t used this name for very long (and couldn’t say with certainty that I’d use it forever), or that I was an adult who was making this transition at a point that felt, to me, a little late in life. They were mainly just happy for me. Or they didn’t care much at all, which felt surprisingly good. Normal.
The world, teetering at a seasick angle for months, finally tipped, gloriously, upside down. Hearing my name echoed around the room brought the horizon into focus, a crisp line I had drawn and then stepped over. New name, same badassery, one of the students typed in the Zoom chat after class. Go Cole.
When I hit my stack for the first time a few weeks later, in the exact same spot where I had debuted my name, it took me by surprise. There I was, hovering upside down, feeling absolutely weightless. It had been waiting around a corner, until I was ready to turn.
In every possible way, I proved myself wrong. What I was born as wasn’t all I could be. It wasn’t even close.
stories about transgender identity and advocacy