Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Gym Anxiety

May 31 was the final day of my gym membership and since I've let it elapse, I've noticed a huge decrease in my anxiety levels. (Granted, they remain a bit inflated, higher than the national average because I'm still me.) I can walk down Fulton in Brooklyn, trekking past my former gym to the subway without guilt. Without a membership, the gym has transformed into just another storefront. I don't have to go inside.

I signed up for Crunch back in December via Groupon and upon the recommendation of my physical therapist. I was undergoing treatment for spine and rib issues and wasn't allowed to dance. She recognized that movement is essential to my psychic well-being and thought I should join a gym. As it turned out, I had purchased a Groupon for Crunch months earlier, anticipating the few weeks between Christmas and New Year's when breaking practices, which are housed in schools and community centers, go on hiatus for the holidays. I figured I'd use it to keep in shape during that small bit of downtime.

Obviously my dance hiatus stood to be longer than a few weeks and I activated the Groupon sooner than I had originally planned and then signed up for a full membership. At first I was happy to be a gym member again. It had been at least 5 years since I last belonged to one and I was thrilled at the idea that I could work out anytime I wanted to.

One of the frustrating things about breaking practices is that there are so few of them and they happen at specific times. They're mostly in the evenings when you might have other social commitments. (For that reason, I tried to avoid those at all costs, making dating very difficult.) Also, every once in awhile work keeps you late and you can't get to the session in time.

Those missed days of practice start to add up and I often wished I could just walk into the gym whenever I missed a dance session. Of course, what kept me from joining was the expense. How could I justify spending 75 bucks a month when I was able stay active for free most of the time?

Then came the injuries and the winter that dumped several feet of snow on NYC. Making up for missed practices with a run or bike ride was not possible in the inclement weather. The gym was the only way to go.

Unfortunately, the gym quickly went from being exciting to a burden because in theory, I could work out anytime. This meant that days I decided to skip for whatever reason -- whether I had made it to a dance practice earlier in the day or was simply too tired and sore from the previous day's workout -- induced fearful levels of guilt and nervous calculations about just how much money I was losing. And forget runs outside -- if I was going to run anywhere, it was going to be on the treadmill that I paid for, staring at my sweaty visage in the mirror as episodes of Jersey Shore played, muted on the television above my head.

Despite my financial arithmetic, I mostly avoided going to the gym. I've always been active but never simply for the sake of burning calories. In order for me to have a sustained interest in an activity, I must be learning something new. Dance offers ample opportunities for this. Running gives me the chance to improve my time and allows me to imagine the possibility of entering races (which I have never done). Alas, spinning class at the gym does not provide the same type of learning opportunities -- pedaling on a stationary bike in a dimly lit room with pounding house music doesn't exactly seem exportable to city streets and country roads. The mere fact that I had paid for the right to take these sort of classes was insufficient motivation to get me into the saddle. But not going still inspired a ton of guilt.

What I realized was despite being occasionally frustrated by both dance practice schedules and the weather, not being able to work out all of the time was actually a blessing for me. Having spent the majority of college going to the gym (when I wasn't doing all of my reading and writing flash cards for class -- yes, I was that kind of student), I needed my workout activities limited to specific times and places. If I can work out all of the time, I will or feel terrible about not.

Ironically enough, I've worked out more since giving up my access to Crunch. All those outdoor runs I contemplated but couldn't bring myself to do while I was a gym member? Well now I simply go out and hit the pavement. Of course, I realize that the awful weather is coming and with it, a ton of excuses to not exercise. But that's okay -- since I'm mentally unable to let myself off of the hook, I need a little help from weather and circumstance every once in awhile.

No comments: