Still, there are some activities that I would much rather do alone, and exercise is one of them. My two favorite forms of exercise are jogging and yoga, both of which I don’t have to leave home (or my neighborhood) to do. I have thought about trying other forms of exercise, but they all involve more planning, traveling and socializing than I can fathom.
It’s not that I’m opposed to exercise classes, working out at a gym or exercising with a friend. I have done all of those things, and I totally get why people find them appealing. Going to the gym can be a fun and motivating experience. When I was a child-free twentysomething living in Brooklyn, I attended a weekly yoga class that I loved. But even though I usually get something out of exercising alongside other people, I also kind of hate it.
First, there is the comparison game. Yes, I could pretend to be completely enlightened, but whether I’m at a yoga class, a gym or just jogging down the block with my buddy, I can’t help but compare my body and agility to those around me. I’m usually pretty secure about my body—I am by no means an athlete, and I’ve got curves, but I’m healthy and able. Exercise classes temporarily erase that reality from my eyes. My mind starts to spin with my inadequacies: “Maybe if I came to this class every week I could have abs like hers,” or “Maybe someday I could twist up into a human pretzel like she’s doing.” The mirrored walls of almost every exercise establishment sure don’t help matters.
I like to have goals when I exercise, but I want them to be about me and where I am in my life. I find it hard to separate myself from others when I’m in a public setting, even if I’m just zoning out in my own corner of the gym. Maybe it’s a shortcoming of mine. Maybe it’s because of how our culture looks at bodies—all essentially flawed and in need of more strength, more perfect beauty.
But besides all that, I value the solitude and quiet of solo exercise. I’m a mostly stay-at-home mom right now, and since I am surrounded by chatter all day, I want nothing more than for my exercise time to be in utter silence. There is nothing more satisfying than closing the door to our den and rolling out my blue yoga mat. There is nothing as thrilling as closing the front door to our house, plugging in my headphones and running into the neighborhood at twilight.
Most importantly, exercise for me is therapy, a time of introspection and healing. From the time I took up daily exercise when I was a teenager, it has been a primary way for me to manage the anxiety I am prone to. My daily dose of feel-good hormones is essential. And as the blood starts to flow to my brain, I work through the day’s problems and worries. I let ideas percolate. I plan projects. I dream. I get in a zone that requires isolation from the rest of the world.
I totally get that some people need to go somewhere to get any exercise done. And it’s not an entirely perfect arrangement for me, of course. I would probably be motivated to try a broader variety of exercises if I went the gym, I’d be less likely to be interrupted, and maybe I’d have a more chiseled body if I worked harder or had more guidance. But perfection is not my goal with exercise. I’m in it for the endorphins…and the silence.