A few months ago I joined the kickboxing gym in my building. After years of practicing yoga as my primary fitness routine, I had fallen off my practice and had taken to the treadmills and free weights offered in the fitness center of my apartment complex. I figured for as much as I pay in rent I might as well take advantage of every amenity offered to me. What had started out as a way to get ready for my PT tests, actually turned into something of a respite for me. Most people hate treadmill running. I actually enjoy the monotony of it. Not having to worry about what direction I’m going in, or if I’m going to be hit by a car, I can just turn my brain off and watch the numbers climb as the machine helps me keep a steady pace. As I blast my Beyoncé heavy running playlist, I can go the distance and still be at home. After that, a few sets of weighted squats and abdominal exercises and I’m done, looking forward to what is almost guaranteed to be a decent nights sleep.
That routine began to feel stagnant though, and seduced by the offer of a free first work out, I wandered into the 9round studio downstairs. Unsure of what to expect, all I knew was I wanted to hit something. The instructor was a young white woman who was a former marine. We talked about training for PT tests and how I was looking to switch up my cardio routine. I signed my paperwork relieving the studio of any liability in case of an injury, and was soon outfitted in the pink first timer gloves.
I made my way somewhat clumsily through each circuit. Three minutes at each station with nine different stations. Not to brag, but after ten years of yoga practice, I’m used to walking into classes and pretty much knowing what I’m doing. Even in a new studio, I can step onto the mat and expect a certain level of grace from my body. This experience was the polar opposite of that. I hated every moment of uncertainty (of which there were many), like when I would swing and miss a bag or be unsure about how to execute the exercises written on the dry erase boards at each station. I now recognize this as a character flaw of mine. As a singer, I manage to make my living off of a talent I honed into a skill. I worked hard at the craft, but I’ve always been a good singer. Therefore, I frustrate easily, and I don’t like things that don’t come to me naturally.
It is because of this character flaw, I signed up for a three-month membership.
I left the studio with hand wraps, and boxing gloves, and two hundred fewer dollars than I had entered with. It’s been more than a few months now and I’m still going (not only because that membership renewed automatically after three months and charged the fuck out of my credit card).
It sounds counterintuitive, but there is something meditative about beating the shit out of those bags rounds after round. On days when my mind insists on reminding me of the areas in my life in which I have failed, I can step into the gym and spar with myself. I lace up my sneakers and wrap my hands. Three times around the knuckles, three times around the wrist, then back up and around until the length of hand wrap is spent and all the tiny bones in my hands are protected. Stabilized. I pick up a jump rope and the buzzer goes off, indicating the beginning of a three-minute round during which all I have to do is give it my all. For three minutes at a time, I jump rope, lift weights, kick, and punch and punch and punch. For three minutes at a time I beat back my inadequacies, until we are both nothing but puddles.
Sometimes (more often than I’d like to admit), I forget how old I am. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I’m too young to feel as tired and world-weary as I do. But when I am swinging on heavy bags or devouring a few miles on the treadmill I feel capable, formidable even. I know now that when I exercise I am chasing that feeling. The feeling where I am stronger than this world that insists on draining my spirit, and proving over and over how much weaker I am than the forces that seem to make it go round. I can out run it, or I can beat it into a dust fine enough to be carried away on the wind. In tiring out my body, I tire out my burdens and that is something like prayer. Tears taste like reality. Sweat tastes like victory.