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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  1. Posted March 10, 2015 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    I went to the gym for a long time. Now I choose to do my workouts at home so I don’t get stuck talking to too many people!! LOL

    • Banana
      Posted March 10, 2015 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

      Bahahaha! I totally understand! Sometimes I feel chatty and sometimes I don’t. Earphones are always great for when I feel the later… Working out at home is awesome!

      • Posted March 10, 2015 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

        Well, you know, I would always have the attitude like, in and out in 45 minutes and then I’d end up there an hour or I’d get stuck on the treadmill because some Chatty Cathy was talking my ear off and I really wanted to move on to the elliptical…

        • Banana
          Posted March 10, 2015 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

          Annoying! Yeah, fortunately I haven’t had anyone actually interfere with a work out. What kind of stuff do you do at home?

          • Posted March 10, 2015 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

            Pilates and then I have a work out tape that I do on the weekends. On the weekdays, I’m too lazy to deal with the DVD player.

          • Banana
            Posted March 13, 2015 at 1:07 am | Permalink

            My sister thinks I would love pilates but I haven’t tried it yet. I definitely will eventually. I was mostly doing cardio but I wasn’t really seeing the results I wanted. Except for the mental results- I am so much happier- which has got me hooked. I have to add more strength training. If you are into working at home I just discovered bodyrock tv and started doing some of their workouts. You can find them online- if you feel like mixing things up.

          • Posted March 13, 2015 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

            I actually started pilates after finding out I had fibromyalgia and it pretty much eliminated my symptoms. It’s good if you have aches and pains and minor injuries plus great for toning and core strength. I’ll have to check out body rock too, thanks.

          • Banana
            Posted March 20, 2015 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

            Hi Marissa, Wow- pilates basically cured you- that is amazing! A very strong recommendation. If you do check out bodyrocktv ignore the comments on the facebook page… haha.

          • Posted March 20, 2015 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

            Oh definitely, trolls, eh?

          • Banana
            Posted March 20, 2015 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

            Yeah- and they post a lot of photos of scantily clad women so…..

          • Banana
            Posted March 20, 2015 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

            Yes- and they post a lot of pictures of scantily clad women- so….

          • Posted March 21, 2015 at 2:15 am | Permalink

            Oh, no doubt!

  2. Miriam
    Posted March 11, 2015 at 1:15 am | Permalink

    Very nice post. I feel like what you’re saying can be applied to more than just the gym 🙂 It made me think about choices in general- avoiding judgement and being respectful.

    • Posted March 13, 2015 at 12:57 am | Permalink

      Thank you Miriam! And that is a great point! 🙂

  3. Posted March 12, 2015 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    The only time I tried a gym I got thrown off the running belt 🙂 After a long period (28 years) without any exercise other than walking, I started the C25K plan in February and opted for outdoors, a) because I love being outside and live in a place where it is possible, b) I can take the dog with me, and c) I don’t have to inhale the smell of other peoples’ armpits.
    I love the “This girl can” idea – blows away all the preconceived ideas about taking up sport.

    • Banana
      Posted March 13, 2015 at 1:02 am | Permalink

      Haha! Walking is great exercise. I don’t know what the C25K plan is I am curious about it. I do know that starting to really move my body again saved my mental health through this brutal winter. Winter is always difficult for me and sweating and moving really gave me great stress relief. Your outdoor routine sounds amazing. I love the “This girl can” campaign. So smart.

      • Posted March 13, 2015 at 11:37 am | Permalink

        I agree on the importance of exercise for mental well-being – I was amazed at how much more positive I became when I started taking more exercise.
        Google C25K – it was the brainchild of a man who wanted to get his mother off the couch and doing exercise, and ‘Couch to Five K’ was born. It’s a gradual build up to 5K – I’m on week four now, and I’m hooked 🙂

        • Banana
          Posted March 20, 2015 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

          Hi, I just googled C25K. Looks like a great program. Realistic but also a great steady build up. Congrats on being on week… well, I guess week 5 now. And for developing a great new habit of taking time to care for your body! I feel like women have to watch out for doing everything for everyone else sometimes at the expense of our own health….. No more!

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