I went to my first exercise class post-baby last week, and probably my fifth exercise class ever. It turns out that I have a wonderful ministry opportunity to be the person in workout classes that makes every other participant feel better about their own skills.
No matter what the instructor said, I was the one going the wrong way in the mirror. Right! Back! Left! Forward! I may have done half a decade of graduate school, but I can’t keep a physical beat worth beans or remember which direction is my right.
I tried a barre class at the local YMCA both because I’ve always been curious about the ballet-meets-pilates genre and because it fit during my schedule at a time when Daryl could watch the kiddos.
Also: the YMCA is by far the most affordable gym in my area. Many southern California gyms are these elaborate, massive marble temples dedicated to the worship of perfecting the human physique. The workout gear is high end. Everyone there is already in shape.
But when I walked into the YMCA barre studio, one of the other women was wearing an old community fun run t-shirt and carrying her yoga mat in a crinkled up Ralph’s grocery bag.
These are my people, I thought. I can do this.
The instructor pushed us to push ourselves–to stretch and bend and tighten and breathe. I held my own for the first fifteen minutes or so, but then we headed into the tip-toes sequences and I had to modify to stay on flat feet.
After receiving a few side-eyes from the instructor and a couple of, “Keep GOINGs” directed at me, I wished I could fill her in on why I wasn’t up on my toes.
I had ankle surgery, I wanted to say. Now there’s degeneration. Arthritis. Two or three times a year I end up on crutches just from walking around my own front yard.
When we hit our mats I made it through much of the floor work, but then we started a handful of core exercises my midwives had warned me against. Again, I wanted to explain.
Mild diastasis. Postpartum healing.
After spending my 20s rock climbing and distance running, feeling pretty darned invincible, my 30s were a rude awakening. I began to feel less like a person and more like a collection of ailments. This part of me didn’t work as well anymore, and this piece was ailing, too. Even the parts that were healthy were softer–age and three babies will do that to a person.
I started to wonder: who was I if I couldn’t do all the things anymore?
But as I glanced around the room I noticed that I wasn’t the only one modifying the exercises. The woman to my right whispered that it was her first class back since a bad car accident. That she usually attended the boot camp class but her doctor told her to try something a little lighter while she recovered.
A woman three mats over who couldn’t have been much older than me spoke of osteoarthritis, of her knees refusing to bend past a certain angle ever again.
I began to imagine all the other women in the room with little speech bubbles above their heads, telling the room about the physical struggles they carried into class, the limitations they faced.
Recovering from spinal surgery, one might say. Three months sober, another would read. The cancer’s in remission. The rotator cuff is healing. The asthma is flaring up again.
Beyond the bodily ailments, what if each listed spiritual and emotional difficulties as well? On the edge of a messy divorce, one might read. The kids never call. I just lost my job. Not sure I believe in God anymore. I’m wondering where my real friends are. The rising cost of rent is pricing me out of my home. My mother needs full-time care, and it’s all on me. My son was just diagnosed with something scary and serious.
I began to look at the women surrounding me with a sense of awe. We were warriors, all, showing up to move our bodies amidst the stresses and challenges of lives that were not without suffering, without pain, without reasons to stay home. We were scrappy. Beautifully imperfect. We were survivors.
Some days it’s okay to rejoice in just showing up. A small victory is no less a victory.
Be kind to yourselves, friends. Be kind to each other. You never know what is in someone else’s invisible speech bubble.