I enjoy watching other people exercise on TV more than I enjoy exercising myself. Want me to watch a football game with you? I'm there and I'll bring snacks. Want me to go jogging with you? I will power walk as fast as I can in the opposite direction.
Yet I know exercise is good for my brain and body, so I go through phases where I try to trick myself into enjoying it. Most recently, I did this by joining Class Pass. Class Pass, which entered the Spokane market earlier this year, is an online subscription service that lets you sample different types of exercise for a monthly flat fee. I tried spin, barre and yoga.
I started with spin class. The stationary bike in spin class looks normal enough, except I had to wear special shoes that clipped onto the pedals. I think the clipping is necessary because your butt is only lightly attached to the saddle. You're constantly moving up, down and back up again as loud dance remixes of pop songs play and the instructor hollers directions at you. If it were up to me, the instructor would have blasted the New Pornographers "The Bleeding Heart Show" and Florence and the Machine's "Shake It Out" on loop for 45 minutes, but I know that's not a reasonable request.
Here's what saved me: The lights were off and the room was lit by candles. There were also enormous fans running. If I screwed up (and I did), I didn't feel like everyone else was looking at me. They were all too busy trying to survive. I was sore for a week afterward, but I didn't walk out of spin class feeling like I had humiliated myself. When I didn't know what to do, I just kept pedaling.
Barre class was tougher because I couldn't hide. Class took place in a brightly lit exercise studio with a wall of mirrors. It was bad enough that other people had to see me, but I really did not want to see myself everywhere I turned.
Barre felt the most like a standard aerobics class. Within the first five minutes, I could not shake the feeling that I had made a mistake somehow. It was like arriving for a first date and finding out that the guy brought both his wife and his mother. None of it felt natural or fun, but I told myself I could get through a single class.
That morphed into "I can't leave unless I feel sick. Feeling self-conscious isn't enough." In the second half of class, my stomach felt funny. It could have been nausea, panic or both. I made an excuse and left the room. In the lobby, I drank my water and apologized while the woman at the front desk said things like, "This happens more often than you think."
For yoga a few weeks later, I made the same deal with myself: Try it once and see what happens.
The yoga instructor told us to be nice to ourselves if our brains wandered, and I was grateful for that, because my brain was wandering all over the place. I kept flashing back to a college instructor who told me, "You carry a lot of tension in your shoulders." The more I thought about it, the tenser I felt. Where else should I be carrying the tension, then? My purse? My glove compartment?
This whole experiment taught me something I already suspected: I am not great at relaxing in an exercise class. That's not why I work out. When I sweat, I want to feel relaxed afterward, not during. It reminds me of how some people actively enjoy vacuuming their house, while the rest of us think of it as something we must endure so we can feel better later.
The exercise class experiment is over, and I'm trying to focus on what makes me feel strong. I may sound like I hate my body, but I don't. I hate the hyper-intense awareness of my body that pops up when I feel like I'm not following the instructions properly.
But I like my legs, for instance. My mom played basketball in high school, and while I didn't inherit her skill, I did get her height. A couple of weeks ago, I joined a gym. It's a cheap one that doesn't offer any exercise classes, but it does have stationary bikes (no clipping required). I find a bike, turn on my preferred music and ride for a few miles. The room isn't dark, and there are some mirrors, but I'm too focused on Florence Welch's voice and the next hill to pay attention to how I look. ♦