I'm no beefcake, but I appreciate the activity of lifting heavy objects repeatedly. A couple of years ago I decided to make some significant changes in my life to improve my mental and physical health, and getting back to the gym and lifting was a crucial part of that process. I developed the habit to the point that it was absolutely integral to my well-being. I was not prepared for it to be ripped away from me two months ago without warning.
What followed was a series of attempts to find that fitness solace using resources in my home. I did bodyweight workouts, ran in place, repeated burpees, but still was not able to find a groove. There was a limit to the satisfaction I got out of these home workouts. And in a climate where emotional and physical energy is sapped much more constantly than in previous day-to-day life, the sheer amount of effort it took to get the fabled ~gains~ from these limited exercises was exhausting.
I needed to find an exercise alternative otherwise the emotional spiral that had initiated would inevitably further unravel.
"and I say, oh, I am miserable, / what shall- / what should I do? And the sea says / ...Excuse me, I have work to do."
Mary Oliver, "I Go Down To The Shore", A Thousand Mornings
A friend mentioned I live on a side of town that is great for biking (west Lawrence). I remembered my bike that was gathering dust in my garage, cleaned it off, aired it up, and took a crack at the trails. It took some convincing and dedication, but within the first two weeks, I was hooked and convinced to keep at it.
I think what I enjoy about biking for a workout is the open space your mind occupies. Rather than being bogged with counting reps and minding form on every unique lift, I can just let my mind wander, save for scanning the path ahead for gigantic potholes and avoiding passersby who sometimes really do not understand the basics of traffic flow.
But of course, some days all my thoughts center around stamina. But it's a bit more nuanced than the One. Two. Three. Four. of lifts.
Make it to that intersection. Get up one more incline. Sprint past one more crack in the pavement.
There is empowerment in tunneling my world into as macro or micro of focus as necessary to find fulfillment. I can celebrate the progress and victory of making it one more city block just as much as finally riding for a continuous hour.
Other days all I focus on is the various wildlife I see.
Robin. Blue jay. Rat snake. Ribbon snake? Aww, that was an extra cute squirrel. Did a dog, coyote, or deer leave that behind?
Some days I can't recall many thoughts at all during the ride. Some rides are just busy voids of time. When the emotional climate of daily life is so different from day to day, it helps to have such an open mental space, freely utilized and interpreted however the day sees fit while still improving cardiovascular fitness.
I may be losing muscle mass from not having access to specific heavy-lifting equipment, but in retrospect that is all ephemeral anyway. When gym access was a given, I had weeks where I was not as committed or motivated to lift because of outside factors. It just sets me up to have something to gain back.
I don't know when I will be comfortable lifting, breathing heavily, and expectorating in a room of strangers again, but biking has given me an opportunity to appreciate another form of self-improvement and mindfulness.
"How easy it is for a dream to construct / both building and earthquake. / ... Something it takes the dreamer a long time to notice, / who thought that the fear was the meaning / when being able to feel the fear was the meaning."
Jane Hirshfield, "Building And Earthquake", Come, Thief
-Joel Bonner is a Technology Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.