What going to the gym taught me about being human

Shunali Khullar Shroff
Shunali Khullar ShroffOct 03, 2016 | 18:48

What going to the gym taught me about being human

I am not a person with a proclivity for physical exertion. I do like to swim or take a walk on the promenade now and then, but those I count as leisurely activities. This gymming business has never held much fascination for me and even though I have had to submit myself to the machines to stay fit in the past, I find the process rather repulsive and a fair bit narcissistic on the whole.


Now narcissism, it used to be the turf of celebrities and movie stars alone until the last century. This isn't to say that there weren't other people who were not excessively preoccupied with themselves, there were of course, but they were quietly narcissistic. Their self-obsession wasn't made apparent to you on a daily basis through different social media platforms. This century however belongs to the likes of Kardashian-Jenners.

Fitness in the time of narcissism. Photo credit: Ira Trivedi

It belongs to people who post images of challenging feats achieved in the gym. It belongs to people who unhesitatingly share pictures of their derrieres and their butt workouts on Facebook and Instagram. This class of egoists may be admired or reviled in equal measure, but they are here to stay and transform the world around us, one gloopy muscle at a time.

I often think about the paradoxes of our times. We want to be fitter than our predecessors, but we don't want to climb stairs, use our arms to push doors, pull or draw curtains; we can't imagine the thought of having to manually turn the TV or air-conditioning off, turn taps on, pick up napkins to dry our hands, hell, we don't even want to press buttons on our phones anymore. We are a generation of ridiculous, lethargic weirdoes who want to get by in this world merely by standing still and tapping on things around us.


However what we do like is simulation. Simulation is one of the many gifts of industrialisation, which necessary as it was, took away the need for us to do much with out bodies making physical exertion redundant.

And so it is that we don't ride bikes but we join spinning classes, we don't row boats but do rowing exercises, we take elevators but voluntarily mount the stair machine at our gyms, we walk and run on treadmills to simulate real time walking and running and we push and pull weights and do squats since we do no manual labour of any kind. If this is not absolutely absurd, I wonder what is?

I resisted this absurdity of gym routines for as long as I could. Those large air-conditioned rooms, that smell of sweat masked heavily by disinfectants, those spots facing wall-sized mirrors monopolised by gym regulars, the distressing sounds emanating now and then from the vocal chords of gym enthusiasts torturing their bodies... give me a park with trees and birds over this any day.

But then a few months ago, much to my consternation, I discovered that my best friend, who lives in Miami, had dropped a few sizes since I last saw her. Of all the cruel things the universe can inflict upon a woman, this one somewhat tops the list. "Join a spinning class if you do not like working out, it is a lot of fun and all the rage now," Dimple, who was fitting into Gap Junior again, suggested.


And so I succumbed. I had to. There is only so long that one can hold off the appeal of taut arms and a core that isn't only made of flubber, especially when one's BFF has them both.

Going back to the gym after a gap of seven years was daunting but also delightful. From what I knew, workout clothes were no longer functional but also fashionable. You had to look good to feel good and feeling good helped you to work hard and look better in return.

I finally had an excuse to buy some Lulu Lemon even before I had zeroed in on the right spinning class for myself. Now with a sizeable sum of money invested in brand new spinning shoes and a workout wardrobe, I knew that if not the fat, I would make a trip to the gym just to keep the guilt off.

There was an entirely different dynamics at play at my spinning class though. One would think that it was just another hour spent working off the extra pounds on a stationary cycle as one followed the spinning teachers' instructions, but as it turns out, it wasn't.

The class regulars had earmarked their spinning cycles which you could not lay claim to as a newbie. There was one particular self appointed head girl who, believe it or not, clicked selfies with the spinning instructor and flattered her to gain favour for some unfathomable reason and would admonish you if you treated the cycles roughly; or another woman who turned back and looked at you derisively if you interrupted the rhythm of the class by asking the instructor a question. The class regulars operated in a pack and adhered to a pecking order. It was like one was 13 again, that unsure age in girls, where meanness and inclusion by exclusion takes over.

As annoying as this was, I had paid up and I wasn't going to get bullied around. I found a new thrill in reaching for the cycle belonging to the "head-girl" on the days I reached early. She started showing up at the classes several minutes before me.

Another time I refused to vacate the bike that another woman sternly told me was hers by asking her to show me where it said so on the bike. I was indeed back in school again. There was mayhem in the pack suddenly. The "class bullies" who would be lounging in the reception otherwise before the class began, would make a dash for the bikes as soon as I got out of the elevator.

Suddenly the gym did not seem like such a dead and dull place any longer. It was a place where much fun could be had if one challenged the pecking order every now and then. But within a few lessons the novelty of this vile kind of stimulation began to wear off.

With a sense of resignation I realised that I did not like being 13 any longer and rapidly lapsed into a Tao Buddha state. This has left the girls nonplussed, but triumphant. Unchallenged but exultant.

As for me, I am delighted to note that I have finally grown up and nudged my lesser self out. Presently I am focusing on my core. Both within and without.

Last updated: October 03, 2016 | 18:59
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