A View from the Gerbil Wheel

Photo by Jim Black

Photo by Jim Black

Comments I’ve heard about the gym:

“I hate the Gym.  I just can’t stand being on a gerbil wheel…. All of those people running to nowhere. I would rather be outside on trails, feeling the wind in my face.”


“Ugh.  All of these people staring at themselves in mirrors. Yuck.”

I get it. When I ran cross country in high school, I had some transcendent moments running on trails- dirt beneath my feet, trees all around me. The most stunning of such moments still sticks in my head. It was a particularly hot and humid Washington DC day.  The air was thick and heavy and I willed myself to keep running along an urban park trail when suddenly the sky opened- sweet rain slipped through the canopy of trees above me and water kissed my face.  It was exhilarating and euphoric.  I had a feeling of oneness and connection to everything.

Working out in the grandeur of nature can be fabulous.  I am not especially a yoga person but if I could be in Puerto Rico right now, on the rainbow haloed beach pictured above, hearing the waves and smelling the salty air as I took a yoga class- you better believe I would be there.

However, I am not in Puerto Rico I am in an East Coast city.  Spring is just around the corner but it is still cold out. Very cold. I am lucky to live in a city with one of the largest urban park systems in the country; however, getting to a good trail takes longer than getting to the gym.  Also, I DESPISE feeling cold. Bundling up for a run? No that is not going to happen. Ever.

What do most of the people who make the above comments about going to the gym usually do to get some exercise?  My guess- 90% of them DO NOTHING.

Unless you are actually out in nature DOING what you say you prefer, or lifting weights and jumping rope in your living room, or taking a yoga class.  Unless you are currently DOING SOMETHING then the above comments are just self-aggrandizing excuses used to feel good about yourself (I am just too earthy and au natural for a gym…. I am not a narcissist like “those people” in front of the mirrors) while, in reality, your physical strengths just continue to deteriorate.  Meanwhile you continue to weaken.

However, with a slight change of perspective- the view from the gerbil wheel (or weight rack or the back of a TRX class) actually can be quite beautiful. And inspiring.

What do I see that is so beautiful at the gym? Is it the concrete, the mirrors, the iron? Of course not- it is the people.

My gym is urban and it is a real mix.  From the elliptical machine (aka the gerbil wheel) I see a Muslim woman working out in loose long sleeves, loose pants and a light weight head covering. She is next to a young woman in a hot pick jog bra that peeks out of her tight tank top from which a flurry of tattooed birds slip off her shoulder as if to launch into the air.  Both of them are lifting weights.  I see the keg bellied owner of the neighborhood brewery trying to allay some of the negative side effects of his life work and passion.  I see the any-day-now-pregnant woman walking her miles on the tread mill. Determined to maintain her strength as this new life grows and grows inside of her. I see the very beautiful and sweet middle aged woman behind the juice bar talking to a lingering customer- one of the many –who secretly hope that her friendly smile is more than just a professional courtesy. I see the seniors walking in for their “silver sneakers” class.  One grey haired lady’s spine is so curved she is literally bent in half.  And yes I see the uber fit people too, some of them are even looking at themselves in mirrors.

The gym is a place where people who insist on taking time to take care of themselves go.  Where people with goals go…. where people who want to integrate their minds with their detached bodies go, where people who want to get stronger go, where people who want to sweat out their frustrations go, and I’ll be honest here- where people who want to look and feel better naked go.

But what do all of these very different people of different sizes and backgrounds and fitness levels and goals all have in common- they all try. They all try and they all push themselves.  As I take this journey into becoming more vivid these are the kind of people I want to be around. People who try- people who recognize that their body- the vehicle in which they carry around all of their hopes and dreams- is important.

I don’t go to the gym looking for conversations but now that I am a regular they sometimes happen.  Interestingly, a least a quarter of the people who I have found myself chatting with are business owners- some very successful and some just starting out.  To be a business owner you have to be willing to work hard without guarantees, to carry a great deal of risk, to take responsibility and to be very internally driven.  I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that I meet a higher proportion of people like this at the gym then I do anywhere else in my daily life.

I don’t believe in a one size fits all approach to living. Or to working out. Everybody needs to figure out what works for them. Not everyone is going to fall in love with the gym like I have.  Ultimately, as long as you are moving and challenging your body that is great.  However, in certain circles, the gym has definitely gotten a bad rap and my point is to expose the beauty in the everyday efforts that some of us make.

Whether or not it is spoken aloud we are all in this together.  We all wake up and put one foot in front of the other.  We all choose every day whether or not to take a step towards our goals or to stay safe (and stagnant) right where we are.  I am just as inspired at the gym by the bent-in-half old lady as I am by the lean legged beach ready babe. Actually, I am more inspired by the bent over old lady who says- “I may be old and my body may be gnarled but unlike so many others- I do not quit. I do not give up. I keep pushing.”

The weather is FINALLY warming up this week and I couldn’t be more ecstatic about it. I look forward to getting outside and moving my body in the balmy sunshine-y weather. I may even try some trail running.  However, on most mornings you’ll still find me at my new temple- that mundane and yet glorious place- the gym.

Please check out this amazing video. It really captures the feeling I have:






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