How Fitness Classes Provide the Power and Strength to "Beat On" in Life

By LW Oakley


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BODYPUMP is a weight-based group-fitness class attended by 5.5 million people in 100 countries each week. I attend a BODYPUMP class in Kingston, Ontario at Goodlife Fitness, the largest gym chain in Canada.

During the class, I sometimes become slowly entranced by the repetitive rhythm and flow and beat of curling and lifting and lunging with weights of various sizes.

Sometimes, my mind drifts away from the moment and the class. But my body continues to move in step, as one, with the instructor and the class. One day while lifting in this trance-like state, I suddenly heard the instructor, Nancy say, “Deadrow three times. It’s just like rowing a boat.”

Strangely, I recalled the last line of The Great Gatsby, written by the famous American author, F. Scott Fitzgerald, “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

I memorized that well-known line long ago, because it provides a simple explanation of life, and how we struggle to survive, and how we try to achieve our dreams, and how those dreams so often seem to move further away, beyond our reach, no matter how hard we work.       

But Fitzgerald’s metaphor for life did not make me despair. I focused only on the words, “beat on.”
 
In life, many people beat on, until they reach their destination. That’s why so many people keep returning to fitness classes. They make us stronger, and more able to endure, to beat on against the current that keeps pushing us back. They help us go further and get closer to achieving our goals, which don’t come easy. They stop us from giving up and letting go. Or, even worse, they stop us from leaping overboard and drifting away with the current, until we disappear beneath the waves.

But where does the strength come from to find the power to endure and keep lifting and rowing and beating on, not just in fitness class, but in life?

It doesn’t come from our bodies. No, it doesn’t. It comes from our minds.
I found the source of that strength and power in a small, dark, quiet room in the back of the gym in another fitness class. It didn’t hit me like a big wave or engulf me like a strong current. It came to me in that small room like a tiny ripple moving across the surface of a quiet still pond.

I also attend a Goodlife HOT YOGA class. The heat makes your body work harder and become stronger. But for me, the darkness and the quiet of hot yoga is not about strengthening your body. It’s about calming your mind.
I realized this during a warrior two pose when I looked more closely at the three pictures on the studio wall.
I focused on a photo of a woman in the triangle pose overlooking a small body of water and a big sky. “That’s what a quiet mind looks like.” I said to myself.

But it’s not the pose, or the woman posing or the sky that I’m referring to. It’s the flat calm surface of the water. It looks still and deep. The world around the water reflects on its surface. I hear Aaron, the instructor say, “Keep breathing deeply through your nose, and back out again.”  

The picture on the wall and his words make me think of a gentle breeze moving across the surface of a still pond, making small ripples that move from one end of the pond to the other. When the ripples reach the far end they return again, and slowly disappear.

The pond is my mind, and the ripples are my thoughts.
 
LW Oakley lives in Kingston, Ontario and is the author of Inside The Wild, and Inside The Wild 2.

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