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go within, not without.

Blimey. Almost there, eh? Will anyone shed a tear for 2023 I wonder, though not very hard because I, like many of us, still carry forward a fatalistic pragmatism learnt from The Covid Years and now handy for deciding what to do with five-day-old turkey leftovers. Curry or food-poisoning, spin the wheel and cross those fingers.

But 2024 sounds more positive, doesn't it? Something about all those even numbers, I expect. While the aesthetic appeal of odd numbers cannot be surpassed when arranging nicknacks or planting up a herbaceous border, as a year they lack optimism, pep, joie de vivre. Essentially, they sound like 365 Mondays.

So then, 2024. Have you done it, have you made those resolutions packed with enthusiasm, tied with a bow of shining certainty? While every year I exhort you not to because you will categorically, one hundred per cent fail, I understand how wiley hope is at seducing experience. "As soon as the very last vibration fades from the very last toll of the very last bell ringing midnight on the very last day of the year, you will become," it murmurs in the style of Jude Law in The Holiday, "a beautiful, fuck-off butterfly."

And because you've spent the last seven days lying on the couch, cocooned in a duvet while growing plump and shiny on Tesco Finest and all things ham, you convince yourself there's an element of truth to this. Only ~ and I hate to be a Debbie-Downer here, I really do ~ we never quite make it to the last page of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, do we? No. We never seem to get to the stage of enjoying a "nice leaf". We remain very hungry caterpillars indeed, only now with a side order of salty self-loathing.

My advice? If you want to "get fit" (aka "lose weight"), choose any other time of the year to do it. Literally, any other time. January is a terrible idea. Dreadful. There's nothing out there but a sea of mud and an air of Seasonal Affective Disorder. When the wind is blowing off the North Sea raising goosebumps large enough to qualify as munros, there's little incentive to cram your resisting arse into Lycra.

Why do it? Where's the gain in breathing heavily on a stationary bike slick with bacteria in a gym bursting with people so physically beautiful to begin with that they have no business being there, because everyone knows that a gym is the domain of the weak and the lazy for the express purpose of sitting on things of varying height in order to drink a coal scuttle of Lucozade Sport while watching telly. It's as close to home as you can get, only with floor to ceiling mirrors so you're left wondering at what point exactly you took bodily inspiration from a rectangle.

Therefore and verily, an absolute balls to "New Year, New You" January. If you want to do the weight-loss thing, I'd hold fire until after Easter, that other excuse to eat our way to Jesus and redemption. (As an aside, it does make you wonder if the Bible is actually an early draft of The Very Hungry Caterpillar.)

So, what I like to do at this time of year instead of catching foot and mouth from a rowing machine, is the very sedentary pursuit of jigsaw puzzles. Love 'em! Glass of wine, glass of water, cup of tea (saves me getting up), a sugary snack on which to nibble and I can lose a good few hours sorting edges and corners and colour-shading and focus and themes and one outie or three ...

Oh, yes. Puzzling for me is a matter of serious, committed systemising. Who are these people that launch straight in, trying pieces all willy-nilly and reckless hither-thither? Animals! No better than those 'Grammers who post a dozen pictures of the same bloody sunset with the cockeyed horizon when ONE would've done and then only when straigthtened, cropped and run through Photoshop.

But anyway, yes. Every piece of a (minimum 1000-piece, anything less is embarrassing) jigsaw is carefully studied, categorised and quite often memorised for quick retrieval and the satisfying dull click of glory. In order to build up the picture in the most efficient way possible, I break down the pile of pieces into aforementioned categories which become more refined on every pass. I appreciate this could sound dull to many but lemme just tell you when you have a big expanse of sky lined up, boy ~ and thank me later ~ it's worth the prep. Look, I don't mean to brag, but my hole-in-one stats are through the roof, the system works. Plus, in this continuous sifting process there's a tiny delight every time you discover a piece that you'd mentally tagged as missing from a not-quite-until-now completed area.

TL;DR: By breaking things down ~ and I mean really stripping them down and familiarising yourself with the component parts to such an extent that it seems an arrestable act of indecency, building the big picture can then happen quickly and with minimal fuss and fewer wrong steps.

You can see how my approach to jigsaw puzzles mirrors that of my attitude to fitness. Some of you may have seen a reel I did on Facebook a few days back. I'd had one of my splendid knee-jerk reactions to all the get-fit twattery gearing up on socials traditional to this time of year. The wide-eyed beseechings of an entire industry begging us "to learn to love yourself" and "be comfortable in your own skin."

They can't have thought it through, can they? If we all loved ourselves, their business model ~ a model which relies on us reliably hating ourselves ~ would glug down the tubes, wouldn't it?

Gym: Hey, for just sixty quid a month you could become the best version of yourself, the you you've always wanted to be, living your best, body-confident life. With diet and exercise, we can make you happy.

Us: Thanks, mate. But already pretty bloody gorgeous over here and just nippin' out for a KFC bucket of joy. Wanna go halfsies?

My favourite line of fragrant effluence shovelled out by the fitness industry is "You're perfect exactly how you are". They then, in the next breath, urge us to sign up to their exercise and diet programmes. Sounds very much like we're NOT perfect exactly how we are, especially when accompanied by "inspirational" visuals ~ all ripped, oiled abs and hillocky thighs capable of crushing swedes.* If you want to catch my interest, at least be relatable. I need to see a precarious plate of cheese sandwiches resting on a satisfied belly, thank you very much. But that, sexy as spreadable Stilton may seem, doesn't sell the dream of being comfortable in your own skin. Body confidence, in fitness industry terms, means body conformity.

The trouble is, the fitness industry, in a cynical ploy, is trying to rebrand itself by using the language of wellness. (Let's park that troublesome word for another day, we have homes to go to, puzzles to finish.) It's read the room, seen how people want a kinder, softer approach, latched on to how people have moved towards holistic self-improvement. But somewhat problematically, the language is the only thing that's changed. Ultimately, the selling point of the fitness industry is physical transformation, altering your body shape so that it looks and feels better according to unfeasible cultural standards.

Now, the fitness industry may claim that confidence comes from a starting point of bodily transformation. But to me, that's arse about face and the reason why so many of our New Year resolutions fail. You can't start with the end result in order to work backwards. You need to do your sorting, your sifting, find your corners and edges first. Then slowly, over time, start building the picture that you want to see, the version of you that has a solid foundation based on everything that you've discovered as you turned all your bits over and examined them more closely. And do you know what? It might be that some of the pieces that you've been holding onto for years believing they fit a certain picture of you, actually belong to a different picture and of somebody else all together.

This is why yoga ~ the proper stuff, not the 45-minute weirdness you get in leisure centres ~ must stand apart from the fitness industry. Because the goals of yoga are internal. Don't get me wrong, heavy lifting and transformation are involved, but it's all mental, all emotional. As I said in my reel, I don't give a single shitsu if you can't do the asana, the physical poses. We move through the poses to give our mind something to do while it learns to calm and quieten. Yes, as I say in nearly every blog post, every class, you will get stronger and improve flexibility, but unlike with what's on offer from the traditional Western approach to fitness, they're side effects, not the be-all, end-all, Holy Grail and royal flush.

Because in yoga, everything happens in the space where it doesn't. It moves from in to out, rather than hoping an outward transformation will move inwards. It never does. Body confidence how the fitness industry sees it, as it needs to see it in order to survive, is a false confidence, a fragile thing underpinned by our societal fear of non-conformity.

So. 2024, eh? The weather outside is crap. It's dark, wet. Much nicer to stay indoors. Hey, why not open the box, finally start sorting through those pieces? All those colours, I bet you'll make an amazing picture. And after Easter? Well, maybe then you'll want to drag on your trainers, but maybe then you'll realise that you don't need to.

And never did.

*Swede. As in the root vegetable, not a person from Sweden. They're really hard ... Again, the root vegetable, not a person from Sweden.

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Oh, thank you so much for leaving such a fabulous comment, Nigel! It's mad, isn't it? The absolute worst time of year to start anything involving deprivation!

I shall pass on your compliment to Mr Kip who is, as you rightly pointed out, in no need of improvement!

I'll see you in class one of these days!

T x


Nigel Szczepaniak
Nigel Szczepaniak
Dec 30, 2023

Love this! I’m a big fan of the ”any time that works for you” resolution. After many years of not celebrating the New Year - because it always seemed to be a bit of a daft thing to do, I mean the clock literally moves on by a split second and we all start leaping up and down and kissing people we wouldn’t normally want to share a planet with - I’ve finally caught on to the fact that it has its own special energy, simply because billions of people are celebrating around the world. Of course they’re not all doing it at the same moment, which slightly spoils it, and which I would have said in the previous sente…

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