Ladies and [scattered] gents! Hope you all had a wonderful long weekend if you’re North of 60th parallel (I wanted to type North of 60 but had immediate and frightening flashes of bad Canadian TV…knowmsayin?), and are looking forward to the weekend ahead! As I was trotting along on my 9 mile run on Saturday, I started thinking about my gym.

While I was in university, I had access to two gyms on campus for “free” (I’m sure I paid for it in some way). Once I graduated, I joined a bare-bones gym in a community centre near my apartment for $12/month. Eventually, a great deal came along for a huge gym chain here in Canada (Goodlife, holla!) and, since most of my friends were members, I signed on the line.

Being a member of my gym means I can access any of the gym’s locations across Canada for free. In Ottawa alone, there are about 15 locations. Two of these locations are within a kilometer radius of my apartment; one of them caters to professionals, and is very clean, bright, and urban feeling, while the other is in the basement of a shopping mall, and is not so atmospherically pleasant. Can you guess which one I choose to visit every morning?

My gym is dank and dark and humid, and some days (today, for example) it smells like garbage. Or Nair. Or leftovers. You catch my drift (pun very much intended). And still, I show up there every morning at 6:30, ready to workout. And I don’t dread it! In fact, waking up and thinking “gym time!” is the happiest part of my day, for the most part. How crazy is it that I choose to go to a dark, stinky gym instead of a bright and modern gym? Pretty dang crazy if you ask me.

I think I can relate a little to the rough-and-tumble-ness of my gym. It’s kind of rough around the edges and some really strange and sketchy people go there, but in a way that makes me feel more comfortable – like no one is judging me and I can just do my thing, whatever that thing may be. I’ve seen some people do some really odd stuff there (like the guy who sits on the floor and punches a medicine ball for an hour, or the guy who walks on the stepmill singing out loud to all of the songs on his ipod while waving his fingers in the air).

Most importantly, I think my gym has become much more than just a gym to me. As I was stepping away and doing some ponderin’ such things as “How does the garbage smell infiltrate the whole gym?” and “Are those ceiling fans only for aesthetics?” the other day, I realized that the gym is where I’ve made a lot of the major decisions in my life – like ending my six year relationship. It’s also where:

I’ve learned to semi accept my body, even though it isn’t perfect. My whole life, I would exercise in clothing that covered my body as much as possible. When I first joined my gym, I worked out in long pants and a t-shirt because I hated my legs and my stomach. Once I figured out that my gym isn’t so keen on air conditioning, I started wearing flared capri pants and a t-shirt for my workouts. As time went on, I figured out that there were plenty of full-figured women at the gym in 3/4 length leggings and tank tops, and that they looked awesome! Nowadays, that’s my gym uniform.

I went from being a shy evening exerciser to a social morning person.When I joined my gym, I originally started working out in the evening, after work. I noticed that it was always stuffy and crowded there, and that people were typically just wanting to do their workout and get home at the end of a long day (myself included). One day, a colleague asked if I’d be interested in meeting her at 7am for a spin class, and I decided to give it a try. In an interesting turn of events, my colleague slept through her alarm, and I became a morning workout convert. What’s more, I’ve made real live friends at the gym, and not just any friends – I’ve gotten to know experienced runners, triathletes and bodybuilders who’ve been able to give me invaluable advice and tips along the way.

I learned to enjoy group classes. Enough said. Before I joined my gym I typically did my own thing.. Actually, the only time I’d ever taken a fitness class prior to joining my gym was in Grade 8 when my aunt brought me to a step aerobics class at our local community centre. I hated it. Turns out I’m not graceful or coordinated enough to ever attempt such a thing. Through my gym, I learned that you don’t have to have good balance to enjoy group classes! I quickly fell in love with RPM (spinning) and the BodyPump classes that my gym offered, and if your gym offers these classes, I highly recommend you check them out!

My gym is also where I do a lot of meditation. I don’t mean Juju ‘sit on a pillow and chant’ meditation, but deep, reflective thinking about my body and my life. Sometimes I start trudging along on the stepmill and get to thinking, and before I know it 20 minutes has passed. Once I noticed this happening, I started consciously using about 10 minutes of my stepmill time to repeat mantras (“May you be well, may you be happy, may you be free from suffering” is a favourite of mine) or to do some visualization exercises. I find the stepmill to be perfect for these kinds of self-improvement practices because the motion of stair stepping is quite repetitive and rhythmic, so I can repeat the mantras to the rhythm of my steps. Ok, that does sound a little Juju. I swear I don’t finish my workouts by burning patchouli.

So there you have it: A love letter to my gym.

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