Oh! What a joy it were, in vigorous health,
To have a body …
And to the elements surrender it
As if it were a spirit!
William Wordsworth, The Excursion
When I first joined the Goodlife Fitness Club in downtown Kingston, my arms went back and forth and my legs went up and down on the same elliptical machine, for an hour a day, six days a week. But, from day one I noticed a steady flow of people going in and out of the group exercise co-ed studio for one hour classes. Eventually I wandered away from my machine over to the glass doors to see what they were doing in there.
Depending on the class they were jumping (BODYSTEP – most tiring), pumping (BODYPUMP – most scientific), dancing (ZUMBA – most fun), core training (CXWORX – most challenging), stretching (BODYFLOW – most relaxing), or toning (BODYVIVE – most important). I continued working out on that same elliptical machine (most boring) for two months to get up the nerve to join a class.
I chose BODYSTEP. I felt I was in shape and ready. But I wasn’t. When they were moving here, I was moving there. When they were doing this, I was doing that. When they were speeding up, I was slowing down. Even though I knew enough to take a spot in the back of the room, I was embarrassed. But the trained instructor said something that kept me coming back. During the workout, without looking at me she said, “It doesn’t matter if you can do it. What’s important is that you keep moving.”
Now I go to all the classes. I immediately noticed that a typical class had from 10 to 30 women but only 2 or 3 men. That seemed odd, because all workout classes are co-ed. I asked a couple of the instructors about it. They both said the same thing, “men don’t come to classes, they like the machines.”
Even though the classes are better for you than the machines (unless you hire a personal trainer), most men won’t come through those glass doors. It now seems obvious why. The reason goes all the way back to the cave. Men like to do their own thing like lone wolves. Men go to the gym to hide, not to visit and chat. And when they emerge from their solitary pursuit they want to be stronger and more powerful.
At a break during ZUMBA class I looked out through the open door and saw one of my old hockey buddies pumping iron. When our eyes met, he looked down. I thought he pretended not to see me, so I wouldn’t feel embarrassed. But I tell everyone I go to ZUMBA, even the boys at the hunting camp.
Women don’t go to the gym just to get bigger and stronger. They go to feel better inside and out. I see women chatting, laughing, and visiting before class begins and after it ends. During class they’re clapping, cheering, jumping with joy and moving as one to the sound of music. They’re not just working out. They’re having fun. For them, it’s a social event, like a party.
After six months I had my in-class big moment. It came during BODYVIVE when I ended up in the front row directly in front of the teacher. I didn’t go there deliberately. People just kept crowding in behind me, forcing me to gradually move closer to the front. Not only did I make it through the class, but I managed to surpass my front-row big moment with another before class ended.
While using the rubber tubes with handles and stretching them above my head they suddenly snapped and pieces flew all over the room. The instructor stopped and said, “look how strong he is.”
I could hear the women laughing, but I laughed too. Then the instructor did something I have still not seen in a class when she said, “I’ll stop the class while you grab another tube from the box.”
BODYFLOW, a combination of YOGA, Tai Chi and Pilates is done barefoot in the dark with a meditation period at the end. It is my favourite class because it connects mind and body while breathing slowly and deeply, through the nose, down the throat, into the lungs, and back out, the same way. Without BODYFLOW and BODYSTEP I never would have experienced my out-of-class magic moment which happened after walking up a flight of stairs.
Like many people I used to walk up my basement stairs slowly and sluggishly with one hand on the rail. Then one day long after I began attending fitness classes I was going up the basement stairs and suddenly realized that I seemed to be gliding up the stairs effortlessly. As I ascended I said to myself I seem to be flowing and not walking up these stairs. Then when I reached the top, it happened.
My right foot stopped on the floor and my left arm went to my hip, which isn’t unusual, except my left knee came up and bent towards my chest as my right arm flew straight up in the air making a fist. Without thinking I had leaped and landed as still as a statue in a common BODYSTEP pose.
My body responded to my thoughts as if of its own volition. My body seemed to be speaking out and reinforcing those thoughts. My body was saying, “I feel good so keep breathing slowly and deeply, through the nose, down the throat, into the lungs, and back out, the same way.”
LW Oakley lives in Kingston and is the author of Inside The Wild and Inside The Wild 2.
LW Oakley’s books can be found here.