Gym class has always been a place of dread to me. I think it dates back to the one in fifth grade when I realized that all other girls 1) could dribble and 2) were wearing a bra. With the deductive powers of an eleven-year-old, I figured these two must be related and went home begging my mother for my own Playtex 24-hour brassiere.
Although I had nothing to lift and separate, my mother ordered me a 28AA from page 337 of the Sears catalogue. I will say that once it arrived in the mail, it didn’t seem to change me or my basketball skills.
Thus, I had to face the facts early. I’m just not athletic. Evidently, exercise is more than bending over to get the dropped sock on the way to the washing machine.
So, when a lady at work invited me to join an aerobics class, my first response was to run to the nearest Sears and hide in the Playtex department.
I’d heard about aerobics. It is a compound term formed from two root words, “aero” meaning “having an aerodynamic appearance” and “bics” meaning “unless you are a nerd”. I was pretty certain that looking like a pork roast in gym shorts wasn’t going to get my like-ability off the ground in our new location.
But, moving does weird things to your brain, so I decided to give it a try. After all, this wasn’t fifth grade, right?
My first red flag should have been the fact that I had nothing suitable to sweat in. If you are an athlete, you already have perspiration-stained T-shirts in your closet. But nothing in my closet fit the bill, so I went shopping (which by the way is an oxymoron to an athlete…or maybe I was just the last part of that word without the oxy).
Since it was the 80’s and fashion was more important to me than fitness, I bought a pair of elastic-waisted yellow shorts to match the yellow Keds I already had. I topped them with a big, yellow T-shirt and two white armbands with a little yellow stripe. Evidently, I was going with a “Big Bird Works Out” theme.
Now, I was not planning to perspire or get any sweaty rings on my new top, but since Jane Fonda wore a sweatband on the cover of her exercise album, I decided to spring for one myself. Maybe that would authenticate the look. I also wanted yellow leg warmers, but decided to wait and see how cold my ankles actually got before making the purchase.
On the night of the first class, I found my acquaintance from work and stood behind her. I figured that if I could just mimic everything she did, I would be okay.
The instructor announced that we’d be starting with stretches and instructed us to sit down on the mats before us. This was a relief. I was a familiar with this position.
The stylus needle on the stereo found it’s vinyl groove in the LP album, but I still wasn’t sure that I would be able to find mine. I was a Baptist child and hadn’t been allowed to jive with my Methodist friends (you know who you are).
We put our hands behind our heads and touched elbows to knees. So far, so good. We stretched one leg and then the other. Leaving one leg outstretched, we bent the opposite knee to send a leg behind us. I felt like a twisted paper clip on a Star Trek episode, but I went ahead and put my face on my leg where no nose had gone before.
I recognized most of the mat exercises. I’d done them in fifth grade gym class without a bra. But, now they had cooler names. I did things like Fire Hydrants, Pizza Lifts, Inner Thigh Flies. Okay, I didn’t love it, but it wasn’t that bad. Maybe Playtex did help.
In a few minutes, the instructor asked us to stand and the tempo on the stereo accelerated a bit. My heart rate went up, but I’m pretty sure it was linked to anxiety rather than cardio.
Once again, I recognized many of these moves from my childhood. Some, like jumping jacks and the windmill, actually had the same name. Deciding I looked no more ridiculous than anyone else in the room, I began to feel more comfortable and relaxed a bit.
Then we began to move our feet. “Step together, step together, step (pause), kick (pause). Step together, step together, step (pause), kick (pause).” Seems you could do this going forwards, backwards or sideways. Add a few shuffles, some high knee things and….well, it was kinda like dancing and my mother would never know.
I smiled. Yes, the boom box and I were becoming one.
“Run and clap in a circle,” the instructor announced.
With the fluidity of Pocahontas, I tucked my head, imagined my own little warpath and hopped from foot to foot, clapping in a tight little ring.
Somewhere in the corner of my eye, I realized that I was the only one in the class doing their own rain dance. Everyone else had formed a large circle and were rhythmically following one another around the edge of the room.
My Indian princess status was quickly replaced by that of Chief Cringing Chicken and I suddenly realized why I had worn all yellow. I ducked quickly into the group as silently as possible.
Believe it or not, I did go back to this aerobics class, although I never purchased a pair of leg warmers. In time, my outfits became mismatched and I attended for the exercise rather than the experience. With practice, my weakness of unfamiliarity gradually strengthened into routine.
I’ve found that true for my faith as well. When I only stretch it out every once in a while, it doesn’t seem to do much good. And when I am more concerned about how others view it, it’s pretty worthless.
But, when I push through the awkward to pick up my shield every single day, my faith muscle tones into true spiritual strength. With practice, I can intercept attacks not only for myself, but also others.
So tell me. How have you built your faith muscle?