On a good day, after a particularly debilitating depressive episode, I went to the rec centre and signed up for spin class 3 days a week for 6 weeks. I had been inactive for months, and was carrying around stiffness and pain beyond my years. The feeling reminded me of how down I had been and I desperately wanted to move past it. I was still teaching yoga twice a week, but I needed an opportunity to get my heart rate up and burn off some of what I was referring to as my sad pounds. A few months ago I had been feeling strong, and flexible, and healthy. I couldn’t find that place, but I thought if I could breathe through the fear and trust myself I may be able to recover that feeling with this class.
The class was a huge stretch for me. First off, I don’t know how to ride a bike. That’s not totally true. I understand the mechanics of riding a bike, but I can’t seem to peddle and stay centered and balanced in any consistent or reliable way. I got a bike for my birthday and took it out a little last summer. Half the battle is the paralyzing anxiety that seems to always get on the bike with me. The other half is getting my hips to stop belly dancing when I peddle. (Metaphor courtesy of my boyfriend). At the gym, the bike is my least favourite cardio. My legs tire out fast and the seat is painful at best and violently abusive at worst.
The first class was delightfully better than expected. The rest of the class were clearly experienced. They all had those shoes that clip into the pedals on the bike. They were mostly pretty fit, and definitely all older than me. Some looked older than, or at least as old as my parents. So there was that. I felt like the most out of shape one there, but I doubt anyone but me was assigning judgement.
The instructor lets call her Tammy, was great. Spoke to me quietly about it being my first class, asked about injuries and previous experience. She helped me adjust my bike so it was comfortable. She explained the pacing of the class that she would offer a range of gears and I was welcome to find my own outside of that range. She invited me to pedal at my own pace in a gear of my choosing, offering to me that it was a win to simply stay pedaling for the whole hour. I felt like she got it. Feeling supported and at ease, I managed to pedal through the whole class a few gears lighter than the easiest option. It felt like a win.
The next class I experimented with keeping the pace of the class though several gears lighter than the bottom option. I think it was the fourth class where I entered into the lightest gear in the offered range. That felt like a huge win.
In about the third week I was having an off day. I don’t remember if there was a specific thing on my mind but I didn’t feel like going to spin that day. I wrestled with myself all morning. I was tired and just wanted to go home and sit on the couch. I knew I would feel better if I went, exercise is a great tonic for the edges of depression. I somehow managed to get myself there despite splitting into two people on very opposite sides of the issue.
Things were off when I arrived as well. Someone was on the bike I normally used. I went two to the right and began adjusting the bike to the specifications I had worked out with Tammy. 4 for the handle bars, “F” for the height and 5 for the seat. As I was doing this the lady next to me leaned over remarked how brave I was. Instantly triggered, I kept my calm and asked her why. She informed the bike I was moving into was the worst one, the gears were all messed up or something. Then my neighbour to the left leaned in, confirming it was indeed the worst bike, and had even been christened “the bad bike”. I looked down at the bike as though I had missed some obvious cue like rust or peeling paint, or a snake tattoo. Neighbour to the left then suggested I use Penny’s bike. She knew for sure Penny was not coming today.
Penny sits right up front, right in the middle. She has clip in shoes, is always in head to toe Lululemon, and will pedal so fast the rpm gauge disappears entirely from her display. I know this because I normally sit behind and to the left of her and check her gears and rpm to make sure I serve myself a regular dose of self loathing disguised as inspiration throughout.
I grabbed my water and towel and moved front and centre. I adjusted the bike, 4 for the handle bars, F for the height and 5 for the seat. I climbed up and began slowly moving my legs around as they creaked and popped in protest. I set a goal to just get through the class. I looked down at the bike and silently assured it that today would be a much lighter day than it was used to.
Enter substitute teacher. She moved through to the front of the class. She put her stuff on the bike, looked around and seemed to get herself oriented. I continued to pedal slowly trying not to make eye contact as I suddenly felt ten times more exposed at the front of the class. It was like the first class all over. Was she going to single me out? Or would she be great like Tammy? Or would she just lead the class and not interact with us as individuals.
She made a beeline for me. As she approached she asked me if I had taken spin before. I told her we were three weeks in… so yes. Then she told me that my handlebars were in the wrong place. As I was explaining to her that I was comfortable with my configuration as the other instructor had helped me with it, she moved my handle bars down. Then she started moving the seat down while I was sitting on it. I moved to the side feeling stunned and intruded upon. She talked over my feeble protests, insisted she knew better than me and offered to change it back half way through the class. Y feeble protests that it was not comfortable went completely unheard.
Mentally defeated, my body seemed to follow suit. I was distracted by the configuration of the bike and it was almost impossible to straighten my back given the short distance between the seat and the handlebars. About 20 minutes in my lower back was screaming in protest. I was barely listening to the instructor and trying not to even look at her as the mixture of emotions was a boiling inferno that seemed to be manifesting in my lower back. About halfway through I got off, and moved the seat and the height back but it was too late.
At the 40 minute mark we would finish the bike portion of the class and do some some stretching and core exercises for the remainder of the hour. When we finished spinning, I grabbed my stuff and slipped out the door. In my weakened state I didn’t trust what might come out of my mouth.
I went back a couple more times and tried to keep going but I had done some damage to my lower back and right hip that still haunts me so many months later. I’m not dumping on spin class either, it was fun, the people were nice. On the days I was in tune with my body I felt amazing after class. My body felt great, and the endorphins were great medicine.
The lesson for me here is to stand up for my body better. I could have put the bike right back to where I had it, but instead I let someone who doesn’t live in my body make decisions for it. Because I was in a fitness class scenario and I am a yoga teacher I trusted this woman to have the same level of care that I or Tammy or every yoga teacher I know would have.
Your body is your best friend, and you will need to take care of it for all the wonderful things you want to do.