Most things I know about life I learned in Spin class.
The stationary bike has been my teacher, and I have spent hundreds of hours learning from it.
Four years ago when I saw my first Spin bike it seemed like…just a bike. Made of cold metal with an unwelcoming seat, it did not look very comfortable. I felt physically awkward: I was very overweight and out of shape in a room full of really fit people. I wanted to leave, to run as fast and far as I could, but did not want to be seen as chickening out.
The first half hour was hell. My behind was numb, my legs were shaky and my heart was pounding. But then I felt something inside. A little spark that ignited a part of me…a part I thought was long gone. That spark re-ignited my pilot light and eventually changed – and saved – my life.
Lessons learned from the bike:
1) It’s OK to be alone. When you’re in class you are with a group of people but also alone. You close your eyes and just feel your body moving. You learn that it is OK to be by yourself. No one but you is going to get you up that hill. No one but you is going to keep you pedaling towards the finish line. You suddenly realize that you are a capable person and that you like being with yourself.
2) Accept what you are faced with. A Spin class is a lot like life (or a fortune cookie): You never know what you are going to get. There are ups, downs and flats. As you round a corner, you find a monster hill waiting for you on the other side. You could stop. You could gear down. You could just go home. But you don’t. Because as in life, when an obstacle presents itself you find a way to get over it. And when you do you feel great. Each obstacle and each climb makes you stronger and ready for more.
3) Never give up. You ride hour after hour, mile after mile. Some days you stay in the saddle riding at an easy pace, chipping away at the miles, just as with work and home life. Other days you hit a fast flat, racing along, trying to hold your pace until the finish line. Your legs are burning, your heart is pumping and still you keep going because you know you can make it. It’s mind over matter.
4) Be in the moment. With so much to do each day you rush around frantically, always planning your next move, next errand or next day. In Spin class you learn to be “in the moment.” If your mind starts wandering you will not be able to keep up or hold the pace. So you stay focused on how your body feels, what it is doing and how it is moving. You have to consistently breathe and relax, feeling your thighs moving smoothly and rhythmically. You learn physical awareness, which keeps you in the present and enjoying the moment.
5) You can survive most anything. With each class that passes you gain more and more strength. You learn that burning thighs won’t kill you and that you can keep your heart rate elevated for much longer than you thought. You discover that you are far more capable than you ever imagined and that a strong will can overcome tired thighs. From this you realize that you will most always make it through.
6) Ditch the comfort zone. Sometimes it’s fine to be in your comfort zone. It’s easy and familiar. But you soon learn you will never really improve if you don’t break free and place some stress on your body and mind. Whether you are riding an uncomfortable interval or considering a career change, going outside your normal boundaries will only lead to growth and improvement….which in turn makes you better.
7) Love your body. Sometimes we all feel physically inadequate. Our bottoms are too droopy, breasts too small, biceps not large enough. What you learn in Spin class is to love how your body works and how it feels when it is functioning at peak performance. Your thighs might be larger than you would like, but they are strong and functional and can climb anything you put in front of them. Your chest might be less than impressive, but it holds a heart that can skate through an 85% effort and lungs that can feed your body with precious oxygen. You learn to love what you are and ignore what you are not. It’s your body – it’s healthy – it works – and it’s strong. Be in it…and love it.
When I look at my life today I realize how much the Spin bike has taught me. I apply all of the above each and every day. I am comfortable being alone. I have incredible stamina, fortitude and persistence. I am not afraid of what lies ahead – I take it as it comes and handle it one challenge at a time. When I play with my children I am with them, not in my own head planning the next day. I realize that I am mentally stronger than I think and I can jump over almost any hurdle life places in front of me. Mentally, as well as physically, I push the limits, constantly learning new things, expanding my horizons and challenging myself. And my thighs can probably leg press a mini-van. These same thighs have carried me through many a Spin class, up real mountains, and through 100 mile rides on my road bike.
Now, with my new life, I chase endorphins instead of chocolate. I know that happiness comes from within and that overcoming challenges is what makes us strong and balanced. I’ve also learned that almost nothing is impossible.
For 15 years I did not exercise. I was obese with high cholesterol, mired in unhappiness and depression. I did not like the direction my life was taking, but felt powerless to change it. I had given up on myself and had thrown my dreams out the window. But when I started Spinning I began to feel a change in my mind as well as my body. With each class I mastered more and more and became increasingly confident. The hours logged on that bike taught me some valuable lessons…not so much about fitness or health but about myself. And life.