Sunday Salon: Life Lessons from the Gym


I would never consider myself an athletic person. I don’t enjoy watching or participating in sports, I hate to sweat, I get headaches when I exert myself. I’m not very coordinated, or graceful – my dad used to tease that I was the only person he knew who could fall up the stairs. (I had a peculiar way of stumbling over my own feet when I raced up the stairway.)

During my elementary school years, I counted myself extremely lucky to have exercise induced asthma which meant I was excused from gym classes throughout my entire school career! What an amazing gift for a chubby, shy, couch potato.

It wasn’t until I was well into adulthood I began to appreciate exercise. Moving my body, getting a little bit winded and shiny with sweat, feeling my heart start to pound and blood race through my veins really did give me a tiny bit of a “high.” Besides that, it helped keep me slim, and having once been decidedly “not slim,” I’ve always been a little bit paranoid about gaining weight.

Being an introvert through and through, I only liked to exercise alone. I had a library of VHS tapes: Jane Fonda, Kathy Smith, and my all time favorite, Leslie Sansone and her Walk at Home Program. I had such a collection I could workout everyday for a month in the privacy of my basement and never do the same routine twice. When the VHS machines wore out, I replaced everything with DVD’s and continued my walking, yoga, pilates, and strength training.

Of course there were times when the regimen was interrupted for varying lengths of time. Months – even years – when life in general was simply too hectic and I couldn’t muster the energy to trek downstairs for that 30-45 minutes.

That’s the thing about a routine – exercise or otherwise – it’s easy to fall out of the habit.

And then it’s difficult to get back in.

But for the past several years, I’ve been happily back in the basement at least three or four mornings every week, walking away the pounds with Leslie or doing yoga with Rodney Yee, or strength training with  Petra Kolber (I love her Scottish accent).

This past January my husband retired and one of the things he wanted to do was start a regular exercise program. So we joined Planet Fitness, conveniently located just a mile from our house. I started accompanying him to workouts, because I knew he was much more likely to keep it up if I kept it up with him. So for the past seven months, we’ve been attending quite religiously twice a week for an hour’s worth of strength training and cardio.

I’ll admit, I didn’t think he’d stick with it. He’s not much more athletically inclined than I am, although he did enjoy golf for a while back in the 1980’s. Lately though, working the gears on a six-speed transmission in his classic muscle car was about the most work he was interested in doing on a Sunday afternoon.

But like me, he got hooked on the feeling. Hooked on feeling better, to be more precise. On losing weight and having his clothes fit nicely. On having more energy. On knowing he was doing something good for himself.

Certainly there are days when either one or the other (or both) of us really doesn’t feel like going to the gym. We hem and haw and drag ourselves out the door. But once we get in and get started on our routines, I think our mojo starts working and we leave a little sweatier than we went in, but also with a clear head and a spring in our step.

In other words, (to paraphrase Dorothy Parker) we may not feel like exercising, but we love having exercised.

So what does all this have to do with art? Or Creative Living? Or “the intersection of art and life,” which is what these Sunday Salon posts are supposedly all about.

I think you know. It’s about discipline and habit and routine. It’s about getting yourself to the page or the keyboard or the easel or the sewing machine or the garden or the barre. It’s about making time and space for your art whatever it might be, and showing up when the time is right.

Even when you don’t really want to.

I’ve been proud of myself for my Planet Fitness attendance this year. I’m less proud of my dedication to any of my artistic endeavors. I’ve yet to develop the kind of discipline needed to carry through on self-imposed deadlines, and those are the only ones I currently have. It’s so much easier (and more fun) to go for picnics in the park with my husband, or catch a matinee in the afternoon. Curling up next to him on the couch with a book is lots more appealing to me these days than writing or revising or practicing piano.

My favorite at-home exercise guru, Leslie Sansone, has another piece of advice I think is as appropriate to creative work as it is to exercise. “You don’t have to spend an hour on your workout,” she says. “If you can only spend 15 minutes a day, then spend 15 minutes a day. Believe in the small doses! It all counts.”

Believe in the small doses. Perhaps that’s something I could apply to my creative living with some semblance of regularity. A small dose – 15 minutes a day? 15 minutes of free writing, or responding to a prompt. 15 minutes on one page of a Mozart Sonata.

More than likely, the 15 minutes would stretch into 20 or 30. My hands might get a little achy from holding the pen or running 16th note passages. My heart might race a little with excitement at finding just the right words or mastering the phrasing of a difficult passage. And no matter what the end result, I know I’d feel a sense of accomplishment for having written, for having played.

For having the discipline to Just Do It.

It all counts.

About the Author: Becca Rowan

becca_rowan_bio_may2016Becca Rowan lives in Northville, Michigan with her husband. She is the author of Life in General, and Life Goes On, books of personal and inspirational essays about the ways women navigate the passage into midlife. She is also a musician, and performs as a pianist and as a member of Classical Bells, a professional handbell ensemble. These days if she’s not curled up on the couch reading with a cup of coffee (or glass of wine) close at hand, she just might be on the treadmill at Planet Fitness. She loves to connect with readers at her blog, or on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.