I get more excited than many about group fitness classes, I am convinced that they are one of life’s most giving pleasures; and it’s not just because of the endorphins.
The science of what we go through when we exercise, the science of what we go through when we push past hard times, the science of the difference it makes to do things in the company of others, the science of how music motivates us to move – the science is all there – but I want to focus on that sweet cousin of science – the magic!
Sure, I sometimes work out alone in the gym, with the music of my choice blasting in my ear buds, at my own pace, and this can be great; but I’m a little bit of a performer, and a habitual achiever, so I like having a teacher to please.
And no matter how secure your attachment was in childhood, even if you’re not motivated by acknowledgement and praise; the instructor at the front of the room is not just a person to please – they are your own cheer squad. They are there to keep everybody going, to remind us that what we are doing is hard, but that we can do it.
I absolutely love being at the point where if I was exercising alone I would have already stopped to rest; and there is someone there yelling into a microphone so I can hear it above all my inner-protestations, “YOU CAN DO THIS! YOU ARE DOING IT!!”
This is the exact same phrase my angelic yoigini girlfriend uttered to me when I was at a very low low in my new role as single mother of baby and teen. I was on my couch with leaky boobs and red eyes, and her sweet, strong, voice of all womankind spoke the truth I needed to hear. The truth that became my mantra and got me through those days when all I could do was sing to keep the tears back.
And that truth did get me through those sleepless nights and demanding days. And having it screamed at me when I am dripping with sweat, with my heart pounding, and I feel like I just want to stop; is the greatest metaphor for life that I can access cheaply and regularly just 5 minutes from home with free creche.
How is it different from a personal training session? She is saying what I need to hear to get through, but there with me, is a room full of other sweating, heaving women who also need to hear just those words at just those times.
The solidarity of working out together is such an invaluable metaphor to be reminded of regularly, and at a time when the brain is hot and loose, so the message goes straight to my soul… “we are all in this together’… if someone is flagging, we don’t all decide to give up, we boost the energy.
We dig deep and pull out whatever we can. It’s not competition or comparison that keeps us going, it’s camaraderie. And at a time when mothers are more isolated in our roles than we ever should have become; that is something more precious than midnight cheesecake.
Fleeting eye contact in the hardest moments, high fives as we change sides of the room, the collective sigh at the end of the abs track, whooping and hollering to get us through the final round of a cardio peak – this level of mutual support and encouragement is something we deeply yearn for in all aspects of our lives.
But how often during a challenging supermarket trip with a toddler, or as a carefully and lovingly prepared meal is rejected, do we hear another woman saying “you’ve got this Mama, I see you, I’m with you”. If you do get this – let me know! For me right now, my solidarity need is nourished in the group fitness room. But I do notice each week more and more of our lives as women and mothers is shared as we chat in the change rooms.
We have gone through something that makes us vulnerable together, we have been cheered on by ourselves and each other, and allowed ourselves to be carried on a journey by the heroine in the microphone who hits play on the music. This is more than just working off the midnight cheesecake and warding off osteoarthritis. This is community happening. This is human beings being human together, in a time when AI is only a poem away from having us all figured out.
This week after a high intensity cardio class, the instructor said “I think I’ve got one of the best jobs in the world – it’s so inspiring being here witnessing you all push through and triumph”. And I’ve got to agree. I’m looking forward to sharing what I love about being the one on the mic!