Are there things you’ve told yourself you don’t or won’t do, because if you did them you wouldn’t be yourself anymore? Then, who would you be and what would you do? Sometimes it’s confusing or terrifying to contemplate who we might be without our ideas about who we are. While such ideas might have served a purpose, if we hang onto them past their usefulness they can limit us, creating a prison of sorts.
It’s commonplace in the United States and elsewhere to join a health club or fitness center. Unless you’re like me, in which case you’ve come up with innumerable reasons why joining such a place is not what you do. As a highly sensitive introvert who loves quiet and being in nature, I’m not enticed by the prospect of exercising indoors. I don’t relish being alongside folks who might grunt, groan, and sweat while high octane music blasts in the background, equipment clangs and bangs in the foreground and TV screens flash and flicker images. Such stimulation can feel like an assault on my system even though it’s designed to energize people. Neither did I want to be a moving mannequin behind glass in a street level club, visible to pedestrians. Then there are the shackles of membership, such as enrollment fees and a commitment of several months to a year. Really, what’s to like? On top of that my ego kvetched that I couldn’t join a club because, well, that would mean I was part of the herd. For the ego, which wants to be unique, that would be the death of it!
Still, every so often I’ve flirted with the idea of getting a fitness membership to simplify staying in shape. When I lived in Denver, I took yoga classes at one airy and inviting studio, danced at another, and swam at a municipal recreation center. I preferred to patronize independent businesses or support public facilities rather give my dollars to a corporate chain, yet I wondered if it would be easier to go to one place. Once I sampled a free week at the Jewish Community Center, whose facility had a pool, steam room and whirlpool, and a choice of classes. Its small, windowless yoga room didn’t tempt me. Because the facility also hosted other programs, I couldn’t count on easy parking. While the posh locker room with toiletries and fresh towels enticed me, ultimately I remained true to my à la carte spirit rather than get the prix fixe fitness menu.
As part of my Feldenkrais Training I’m actively challenging old habits and stories, whether they are rooted in substance, ego-driven ideas or a combination of both. When a local women’s fitness center recently offered a membership deal, I wondered if it was an opportunity to test whether I truly disliked such facilities still, or if I could be in such an environment differently while getting back in shape and having support in the process. Perhaps I’d enjoy it, in spite of myself? Nevertheless, my ego, insisting that it “doesn’t do health clubs”, wanted to reject the venue before I had set foot inside. While it’s one thing to cultivate individuality based on innate traits and interests, it’s another to define oneself in contrast to others. A true maverick is distinct from a compulsive contrarian; I worried that I might be becoming the latter, while fantasizing I was the former. Listening to my ego yammer away bogged me down in resistance and procrastination, the mental equivalent of dragging around pounds of mud on one’s boots. When I caught on to this internal dynamic, and with the deal about to expire, I coaxed myself into walking to the fitness center by making a deal: all I had to do was look at the facility. That’s it. I could step inside and turn around, but I needed to make a choice based on actual sensory input, not a story engraved on my brain as if it were stone rather than a neuroplastic marvel.
A staff member gave me a quick tour of the locker room and spa area (clean, quiet and spacious) before showing me the exercise studios and equipment. Well lit, with ample windows, it felt less confining and factory like than other gyms I’d poked my head into over the years. Located on the top floor, there’d be no peering pedestrians. With only women for clientele, I imagined there would be less grunting, possibly less dripping of perspiration. The room with stationary bicycles had three windowed walls, offering connection to the outside world. Membership offered a discount at a nearby pool. Still, with my future whereabouts uncertain, I didn’t want to commit for a long time or pay a cancellation fee. Fortunately, I could terminate without penalty if I moved far enough away, or suspend my membership for up to three months, making for a relatively risk free experiment. Maybe earplugs would protect me from noise. With my Feldenkrais training, I could participate in group classes differently than I once might have by paying attention to how I use my whole self and staying connected to my breath without feeling compelled to keep up. I could listen to instructions with diffuse attention without feeling I had to heed every motivational exhortation. If these strategies still left me underwhelmed or alienated, and I concluded once again that I don’t do health clubs, I could at least console myself by enjoying the sauna, steam room and fresh towels. Against the protestations of my old self-image, I signed up.