When it comes to exercise, I am a certified yoga girl. I’ve been practicing yoga for over a dozen years, was a die-hard student and a yoga teacher when I lived in New York City, and quite often write of its benefits here and on my blog. I practice it several times a week still, and credit my yoga practice with getting me through some of the roughest parts of my life, including when I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.
I love practicing yoga at home or at a studio, or even at the beach, but one place I have never done yoga is in a gym. Gyms just aren’t my thing. I will cop to being a bit of a snob here. I like being in calm, zen-like spaces filled with orchids and incense when I get my exercise. I like it to feel spiritual and about well-being, not just burning calories. I don’t like donning spandex and heading over to an impersonal sweathouse filled with people burn-baby-burning on the treadmill, grunting as they pump iron, or worse, suffering away in a masochistic spin class. It’s just never really seemed appealing to me.
And yet, I have to confess that not only have I recently joined a gym, but I have also found myself being ever so thankful for it over the last two months. As part of my new heart-healthy strategy, I felt like I needed to shake up my physical routine a bit and challenge myself to do something new this spring. When a friend of mine suggested I be her guest at the gym near my office for a Zumba class, I was at first hesitant, but decided to give it a try. I love to dance, and I figured that if the teacher was any good, she could help me modify any steps that felt like they were too much for my joints. I went, and then I got hooked.
The Zumba class was awesomely fun, and better yet, completely doable. She offered lower-impact options for anyone in the class who might need them, but I was so pumped up by the fun music and the dancing that I pushed myself really hard and felt great afterwards! Maybe this gym thing wasn’t sooo horrible after all. I decided to try out their introductory membership plan, which included two sessions with a personal trainer- something else I had never done before. All those weight machines seemed daunting, but I’ve read enough to know that strength training is one of the best ways to lose weight, build muscle and increase your metabolism, so I figured I’d take my two free sessions and see what I got out of it.
The first session was mostly spent talking so the trainer could get a sense of my history and what might be appropriate for me. We talked a lot about my rheumatoid arthritis, the exercises I had done when I was in physical therapy, what I enjoyed about yoga and what my fitness goals were. She was pleased to hear that I was also adjusting my diet to include more vegetables, fruits and whole grains, and after we finished talking, she took me back to weigh and measure me. This part wasn’t so pretty, especially when I found out via some new age machine that my body was apparently made up of 30% fat.
Totally disgusted by this, I went home, watched The Biggest Loser on TV and made up my mind that I was going to get as much out of this gym as I could. When I went back for my second session, the trainer took me through a series of different exercises on the weightlifting machines, making sure that my wrists and other joints were kept stable to minimize the risk of any injury. Surprisingly, I felt comfortable on the machines and began to enjoy the thought of getting seriously fit and in shape. She wrote down a routine for me to go through on the machines, and recommended that I try to do it two or three times a week.
Horrified at the fact that one third of my body was nothing but lard, I took her advice to heart. Since then, I’ve been taking Zumba and going through my weightlifting work out several times a week at the gym, plus I’m still practicing yoga at home on my own. Adding these new activities to my work out regimen has reinvigorated my motivation and has even benefited my yoga practice. I can feel my body getting stronger and more supple, and I’ve taken off over ten pounds since mid-January!
The best part is that I’ve created a real fitness habit; since I’ve switched my routine up, I never get bored, and I can even squeeze in a work out during my lunch hour because my gym is so close to work! I’m still a yoga girl at heart, but having yet another tool in my tool belt to help me stay as healthy as I can is never a bad thing.
Sara is the author of the blog The Single Gal's Guide to Rheumatoid Arthritis.