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by Natasha Henderson, Montreal
The gym. It is a place to work out, a place to stretch the boundaries of how you feel and what your body can do. A place to work out problems, to work in peace, to work in silence or with loud, boisterous laughter. Depending on your gym (assuming you go to a gym, I understand that a lot of people do not) you might find it is a great place to meet people, to take on a class or two in something new, a place to build muscle and confidence.
It could be that you feel uncomfortable with all eyes staring at you. It could be that you don’t feel that you fit in with the hard-bodies that surround, or it might be because you are shy, and, well, some soft-bodies are busy eyeing up your fine physique. No matter what, a gym is one of those communal places where you need to find the right sort of place for you, at the right time in your life.
When I moved to Montreal, I found myself losing weight. It was delightful! The little furnished apartment I’d rented for a month upon moving here had a scale in the bathroom. Hot days, lots of walking, and new types of food all combined to melt the pounds away (as they say). The start of massive-weight-loss combined with that invigorating view of the lowering numbers on the bathroom scale inspired me to join a gym.
Lurt would like to get skinny
I’d been to the gym before… Always would do a light round of weight-machines, and about twenty minutes of cardio. This would occur about three times a week. Once I found that I didn’t have the money or inclination to go to the gym (back in those olden days), I invested in a workout tape. I’d do step aerobics. I liked it, I got sweaty, I didn’t lose weight but I felt good when I did it. I also would garden, mow my lawn.. I counted that as exercise. I needed to understand that simple existence doesn’t “count” as exercise. Especially when you drive everywhere and reward your workouts with onion rings.
The first gym I joined in this city was a Semi-Budget style of gym. My inexpensive membership included one session with a trainer, who convinced me to use two weight-machines, do lots of sit-ups, and to continue with all the cardio work that I could. The weight continued to fall off my body, and I felt fabulous. The gym was always crawling with people, but they kept the washrooms pretty clean. The gym was mostly utilised by local working-class people such as myself. Yes, I had a job back in those days. A job in the Fashion Industry… yet another story for another day!
When I moved closer downtown a year later, I knew that I’d need to relocate my Gymming too. So I eventually bought myself a membership at a more Chi-Chi gym. I let the salesman at the (quiet! not busy!) front desk convince me to purchase several sessions with a personal trainer. Over several months I became an almost “hard-body”. Well, I became pretty well-formed, and in the best shape of my entire life. I did still have a weird neck/shoulder problem that could have been related to the stress of my (then) job, but… I felt like a million bucks. It was good.
When I left that stressful job to become a Full-Time Artist, I still used this gym and my trainer… until one day my membership ran out. Did I have several hundred dollars to renew? Uh, no. No I did not. So, I figured I’d do push-ups, sit-ups, and lunges at home. A friend recommended the 100 Push-Ups programme. It had worked for her; it didn’t work for me. I needed to get out of my home for exercise. I continued with jogging (there’s another story, How I Learned To Jog) and “brisk walking”. Needless to say, some of the pounds rejoined my body. I still felt good, but not as well-formed. I was ok with this.
You can see a lot of pretty leaves when you're out running around outside
When I found my feet, found my pace, and decided to rent a shared studio space, I was quite thrilled to discover that in the same building as my studio was a Budget-Level gym. Ok, half of the equipment was broken, it was full of mean-looking men who would eye you up and down thoroughly before returning to their training and sparring (most of them were welter-weight boxers) and the changeroom was something to escape from. It was, however, about $100 for a year. I was happy. I did some exercise in this place, but certainly not enough. I seemed to fall into a pattern of twice a week, about 40 minutes of cardio followed by stretching. When I moved studios to another one across town, I let this gym membership slide away.
After a few months of no exercise, and finding that my middle was becoming increasingly softer, I had the opportunity to go to the YMCA gym. My neighbours let me use their free guest passes for this, and it was great. So great it was, that I eventually sprung for a membership of my own. I enjoy taking the African Dances and Yoga classes, and look forward to other classes, too. I plan to buy a swimming cap and goggles, and will do some swimming. I’ve worked out in the weights rooms, utilising the knowledge that my old personal-trainer had passed on to me before. I jogged around the track a bit, until my knee told me NO MORE. So for now I stick with the dance, yoga, potential-swimming… Pilates, other dance, maybe even belly dance some day! I need to embrace my wiggly side.
I like the YMCA. I like that there is a huge range of classes, and I like that there are programmes for everyone. Drippy nose-and-fingered kids take swim lessons (I am avoiding swimming on the weekends and after school), working-class people bring their one pair of shorts and jiggle around (my folks!), and businessmen with text-messaging beeping gadgets play racquetball. Self-employed artists and health practitioners and dance teachers go to classes together. It’s a lot of fun. The other day I saw several older women dancing to”something” in a room, complete with coffee and muffins. They looked to be having a sociable and fun time. Who wouldn’t want to be around that???