It was one of the first nights of my spin class a couple of months ago. Sometime between realizing I was probably losing half my body weight in sweat and wondering if I would ever be able to catch my breath, I looked over at the very graceful man a few bikes away. Granted, he is probably 25 years younger than I am, but still. He looked as if even the sprints were easy for him. I didn’t say anything to him that night, but a few sessions later, I told him that he was my inspiration. “You look like you’re floating,” I said to him. He laughed and said, “I just try to relax as much as I can.”
That’s exactly how it seemed to me, but I couldn’t imagine doing it myself. In fact, even though I can see him out of the corner of my eye at every spin session, I’m so focused on just surviving the workout that relaxing seems counterintuitive. Until this week, that is. I don’t know what changed for me, but as I was putting every ounce of energy into the workout, I saw him there, standing on his pedals, looking cool as a cucumber. Then I considered what I was doing with my body. I was gripping the handlebars and my arms were stiff and tense. My shoulders were practically at my ears, and I was pushing on the pedals as if I were trying to move a brick wall. It was only awareness at this point, but it helped remind me what I was doing.
I tend to get so carried away with anxiety and worry that anything that focuses me on the opposite of those states is good.
For a minute, I just tried relaxing my arms. My shoulders dropped, my elbows loosened, and my grip slackened. I didn’t stop spinning; I just did it with a relaxed body. Interesting, I thought, and then promptly forgot what I was doing and went back to giving it my all—tense body and all. Still, ever since that evening, I’ve thought of this notion of relaxing at least once during every class. When I do, it’s more fun. And I’m certainly not working any less hard. I’m just doing it with a more relaxed approach overall. As a result, I actually have more to give the workout because I’m not putting all of my energy into tensing every muscle.
I’m never going to become a spin champion, but this thought about consciously taking a more relaxed approach to difficult situations has stayed with me, even in my non-spin life. I’ve tried it at work when I’m on a deadline, and I’ve recalled it during difficult conversations. If I can remember to check for this during a regular day, it makes whatever I’m doing easier. It also goes a long way toward making me more conscious and attentive. If I’m deliberately relaxing my body, I’m much more in the moment. It makes everything slightly less serious and dire.
And of course the best part of this new, little discovery is that I tend to get so carried away with anxiety and worry that anything that focuses me on the opposite of those states is good. If each reminder to loosen up lasts even five or ten minutes, it means I’ve added at least an hour of relaxation to every day. It also means I’ve added that same number of minutes of consciousness and attention. One more hour of being present is a very good thing.
I know I sound like a true believer who has just ordered a magic potion from the back of a magazine, but that’s not how it seems to me. It never occurred to me before this that if I’m standing stiffly and tensely, my energy is going to the wrong thing. I’m not going to a spin class a couple of times a week to see how tensely I can hold my body. I’m there because I want to strengthen my muscles and increase my endurance. When I remove the added barrier of all of this energy going to holding my body so stiffly, everything just flows. It’s that easy. If only I can remember to do it.
For me, feeling anxious and stressed about anything, whether it’s a physical task or an emotional one, is usually just a defense against some imagined fear. But, it almost always gets in my way and makes an already tough situation even harder. Reminding myself to float a little doesn't fix everything, but it's a very welcome relief.