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I took a step into unfamiliar territory the other night and went to a group circuit training class. It’s part of an 8-week series at a local adult school, and I knew that for this to be effective (read: for me to actually attend class for 8 weeks straight), I’d have to commit for realz and throw down the cash. I filled out a registration form, signed a check, and everything!
Yes, I belong to a gym and I also have lots of free weights and fitness gadgets at home, but for a while now I have felt the need for some structure when it comes to strength training. I love doing kettlebell exercises at the gym, but my body really can’t tolerate more than 1 day a week of that. I have a buttload of strength routines from magazines and websites printed out, but sometimes the act of just reading the instructions and comprehending where each body part is supposed to be is tiring in and of itself, and after I’ve “studied” the exercises for 20 minutes I have no desire to actually do them.
All I want is a little live guidance every now and then, to push me for 45 minutes and make sure all my parts are in the right place. Nothing too crazy (not quite ready for Bodypump yet) but nothing too wimpy either. Circuit training is perfect for my body, a chance for me to get cardio without overdoing it with jarring repetitive motions, and strength training, a time to build muscle. And dude, you can’t beat the price either! $3 per class? Community education rocks…property taxes at work!
The class was packed with people of all different ages, sizes, and fitness attire. It was so vibrant that I was never really self-conscious about my hip, that between sets I had to jiggle it a little. No one noticed that I didn’t lunge as deep on my left side.
What I was self-conscious about, though, was my knack for always looking like a dancer, even when I’m trying to be buff. I have this image of myself in my mind, that, due to swimming, I’m this ridiculously toned athlete. I mean, after 30 minutes of swimming, my arms feel spent, and while it’s true that my back and shoulders have changed form from swimming, my gangly upper body still screams ballerina. Not only in appearance but in movement, too. How come some people lift dumbbells over their head and look strong, and I look like I’m practicing a port de bras with 5 pounds of iron in each hand?
And don’t get me started on the jumping jacks. We did a variation of the typical jumping jack, jumping out wide-legged into a squat with the arms coming through the center of our body and out to the side. In other words, I felt like I was doing small jumps in a ballet class, a series of echappes to the tune of Britney Spears rather than classical piano. I felt so proper, so poised. And I couldn’t break free from the elegance!
I love that ballet is ingrained in my body but sometimes it’s like the dorky little sister who sneaks up on you in the school hallway when you’re trying to hang out with the cool crowd. “Hey ballet, whatevs. I’m here with the chiseled athletes now, doing my super-tough jumping jacks. We’ll catch up later. Nerd.”
Friday night was another 5Rhythms class, this one just 2 hours of a traditional Wave. I was thrilled that my friend Amanda offered to take the class with me; she took a few classes back in 2010 and then fell off the bandwagon, but she is a fantastic mover, so it was great to have her back! The class drew in several new people, plus Michelle, a woman I connected with at Biodanza last year and who I have been longing to dance with again. She is one of those people who can just look at you and you feel overwhelmed with joy.
Here are some random notes from the evening:
The Watchful Hands
It is typical for the instructor to begin a Flowing exercise by telling us to dance with our hands. Before we introduce the arms, shoulders, spine, hips, and legs into the dance, we move only our hands, become fully immersed in the subtleties of the wrists and fingers. However, this time the instructor told us to imagine eyes on the palms of our hands. When we move our hands, what are they seeing?
What I saw was a sliver of everyone else’s dancing, and when we were fully given permission to dance with our entire body, I found myself tuning into my classmates’ movements, noticing a particular move they were doing, and completing a variation of that movement. Call it “copying,” but I saw it more of a form of connection with every.body there in that studio.
‘To Me’ vs. ‘For Me‘
To kick off Chaos, the instructor, as he has done in the past, had us join hands and form a circle, our arms shaking wildly as one form, our bodies being pulled one way and then another. Was it irritating that we were being pulled in several different directions at once or was it guidance for us to give into the moment? Is this chaos happening to you or for you?, we pondered after class. What if we shifted our perspective so that the chaos we face in daily living is happening “for me,” rather than the victimized “to me”? Is it possible to see the world that way?
Amanda the Kite
At one point, when the majority of the class was either vibrating in place or making small steps around themselves, Amanda flew across the studio floor as though she had wings on her ankles, a Porsche speeding down a suburban street when everyone else was going cautiously at 25 mph. Her body was a kite whipping wildly on a windy day; her movement spoke joy, and it was at that point I remembered the instructor’s comment about seeing someone else’s movement and really, really liking it, so much that you want to try it out. So for that moment, Amanda inspired me to be a kite.
Chaos forced me to strip off my sweatshirt, and all I had on underneath was a black sports bra. Normally I really don’t like to remain “shirtless”; when not caught up in the ecstasy of dancing, having my midriff exposed makes me feel all kinds of vulnerable. Not that I have a beer gut hanging out from my yoga pants or anything, but the stomach is just a weird body part that shifts in appearance with every forward fold, backbend, side stretch, and jump. Every time I disrobe down to the sports bra, I’m reminded of the Seinfeld episode when Jerry’s girlfriend walks around the apartment naked and how he’s repulsed at seeing her clothes-less body cough, sneeze, and shake.
I had that nervous feeling for about 3 seconds after peeling off the shirt, but then I was back in the throes of Chaos, moving around every which way, the thoughts of a prana-filled, sweat-covered belly taken over by a deep appreciation of my entire being, the way it was whirling, curling, shaking, and gyrating. My hair, which I normally go great lengths to ensure is pinned back and held neatly in place, was a hot mess. Half of it had fallen out of the rubberband, a few ends were plastered in my armpit, and whatever was left was stuck in the corners of my mouth or covering my eyes. It is in those moments of naked sweaty stomachs and fly-away Medusa hair where my freedom is found.
Michelle’s Plateau Pick-Me-Up
After the pure wildness and rawness of Chaos, the Lyrical that followed was difficult for me to maintain. I was sweaty, exhausted, and had reached a plateau. My Lyrical began to feel flat, and just as I was reluctantly shifting into the dreaded “forced” movement, Michelle shimmied up to me and did a little shake-shake-shake here, shake-shake-shake there, the twinkle in her eye and smile on her lips infusing me with a new spark of energy, like I was a Super Mario Brother coming across a 1-Up mushroom. I didn’t need a new song, a caffeine shot, or a rest break to come back to life; all it took was a little exchange of energy, and I was granted a new reserve of breath and enjoyment.
Some Sweat and Sweetness
I was paired with the studio owner during the shift from Lyrical into Stillness. We clasped hands and engaged in a lovely pas de deux, our breath slowing and our movements growing softer and softer. Had I not been just utterly sweaty at that point, I would have given myself more fully, but I was afraid of pressing my glistening back all over her delicate blouse. It was still a sweet moment.
The other night I had to come face-to-face with something I am not normally comfortable with: my partially exposed body in a public yoga studio.
It was the first time in weeks I returned to the hot yoga studio for class, having given myself a break when the summer temperatures were at their highest. I was in a rush when I left for work that morning, and I packed my tote bag in haste. I thought I had packed my super-cool new pair of running/biking hybrid shorts, which are loose on the outside but have spandex biking shorts on the inside, and I thought I had packed a full-length, over-the-navel tank top, but when I went to get dressed in my office bathroom I instead found myself in loosey-goosey running shorts (with only built-in bloomers, no snug crotch-concealing spandex) and a cropped tank that was just a hair longer than a sports bra.
Now, I don’t normally cover up head-to-toe during a yoga class, but I do like to have some feeling of modesty (i.e., upper thighs, ass, and mid-section hidden from the public). That was not an option that night with my poorly chosen yoga clothes: My belly was in my face during every forward bend; every inversion, low lunge, and downdog was an opportunity for my sacred “bathing suit area” to say hello to the world.
At first, I was really uncomfortable. It’s one thing for me to dress minimally in the privacy of my yoga room at home, but here I was surrounded by mirrors and wandering eyes. My thighs in all their pale glory were just there for everyone to see. My belly, filled with the bran cereal I had sprinkled on my afternoon yogurt (note: not the best pre-yoga snack), felt like it was expanding minute by minute with fiber molecules.
However, about 30 minutes into the class, when my breath and movement started syncing, when flowing from pose to pose became more natural, that superficial paranoia about someone possibly catching sight of my imperfections began to dissipate. With each minute that went by, I felt more in touch with my body, proud of it for being able to hold steady in Warrior III, to sink deep into Utkatasana. It was then when I remembered why I do yoga, and why I love it so much–it peels away that outer layer of self-consciousness and brings forth my true essence. I am in yoga class, enjoying this movement, appreciating these 90 minutes of sweat and flow and mindfulness. As I fell more in love with the experience of my yoga class, I fell more in love with the feeling of just being me. I didn’t go to the extreme of getting all cheerleader rah-rah! about my body, but the mind-numbing chatter of “Oh god, my thighs, oh god, my belly, oh god, that questionable area where upper thigh and butt collide” faded far, far away. I was present. Here I am.
I had to remember that mantra the other day, as I stood in the locker room at the gym, contemplating whether or not I should step on the scale and weigh myself. I had just completed a 30-minute swimming workout and was still high on endorphins, feeling utterly awesome from head to toe. The period following a swimming workout is one of the few times I feel A-OK walking around tall and proud in just my bathing suit, sans towel or cover-up; the pride of just accomplishing a high-intensity workout boosts my confidence 100%, and I go from feeling eh to F–k yeah!
I had absolutely no reason to weigh myself (nevermind the fact that it’s kind of silly to weigh yourself when you’re drenched with pool water), but there was still a nagging curiosity to get on the scale. I hadn’t weighed myself in months; I just wanted to check in.
After a few minutes of internal debate, I finally left the gym without stepping foot on the scale. Because really, what good would it have done? I was relishing in my post-swim glow; what if the scale reflected a number that didn’t jive with that glowing feeling? How pathetic to let a three-digit number determine my mood for the rest of the evening.
Going back to the yoga studio, when I rose into headstand at the end of class, my paper-thin shorts swooshed toward my head, exposing my little bloomers for all to see. But at that point I was totally in the zone; in fact, that headstand was one of the most balanced, grounded, stable inversions I’ve ever done, and I played around with different leg positions without once wobbling. My shorts were falling in my face, but I was steady as a rock. I am breathing, I am in headstand, it looks like I’m wearing a bikini…yes, world–here I am.