Today, you came here for a reason, the fitness instructor says. If you’ve ever been to an exercise class, you’ve heard this refrain. As class starts, you’re encouraged to set your intention: there’s a goal or dream to realize, a feeling to release— and this intention will inspire your resolve through the hard work to come.
I love this about fitness classes: for me, the studio is a haven to do this personal searching. Free of my phone with its demands and distractions, of the all-five-senses bombardment of New York City, of the everyday stresses and greater traumas of the world— I’m present in my body and spirit. I use the warm-up to find my intention— usually a mantra that centers me on my aspirations. Then, with my heart and muscles working, my intention looping in my mind, I push through my limits, stronger than I ever knew I could be.
Because of this, my fitness intentions are profound for me beyond class. Below are three of my most trusty ones that motivate me into my daily life. If you’re so moved, I hope you’ll feel free to incorporate them into yours.
Increase your resistance. (Spin)
The stationary spin bike is equipped with a knob, that, as you turn to the right, makes the resistance thicker. This simulates riding uphill, or through mud, or up a mud-drenched hill, whatever tough terrain the instructor imagines. The catch, though, is that while you’re told how far to turn that knob, you’re really the master of your ride. How much you increase your resistance, to pump your legs and heart harder, to make yourself stronger, is up to you.
Increase your resistance is the choice to go into those tougher terrains of my being. I think about my dual writing and business careers, the parallel paths, the resistance I’ve created in doing both at once. Sometimes I think it’s just too strenuous. It’d be so much easier to leave writing behind, go get an MBA and climb some well-laid ladder instead of hoofing it up the winding mountain of this creative career with its blind turns and cliffs. Increase your resistance reminds me: these hills are where I build new, diverse skills. They’re where I gather the grit to reach any summit. I repeat increase your resistance and keep going.
Upside-down is right-side up. (Yoga)
Shoulderstand, or Sarvangasana, is an inversion where, as the name says, you stand on your shoulders. Your elbows prop you up, hands hold your lower back, head rests on the mat with chin tucked into chest. Then you lift your legs into the air, point your toes, and stay there, upside down, gazing up at your body stretching toward the ceiling. With your core pulled tight, you hold yourself against gravity. It’s not the way we humans are typically situated, but for those few minutes, upside-down is right-side up; it’s exactly how you’re supposed to be.
Upside-down is right-side up is freeing. I’ve always strived for the “A” and long believed success was only success if I checked pre-approved boxes: top college, prestigious employers, shiny things and experiences. While I’ve grown out of some of that, I still often hold myself to traditional notions and markers. Upside-down is right-side up, I tell myself— there is strength in doing things differently, in changing one’s perspective. Upside-down is right-side up, and I can give myself permission to create my own goalposts. Drawing stability from the core of who I am, I can lift myself high, toes pointed in my own direction.
You are strong in places you didn’t even know existed. (Barre)
Barre is all about micro-movements in your deepest muscles. A twitch on the outside is a tour de force inside: you clench a previously unknown slice of glute where butt-cheek meets hamstring to tick your leg an inch upward, or squeeze one sliver of oblique to twist your torso an inch over. You repeat this, aiming to fatigue the muscle until you shake so violently it threatens to knock you down. But you can’t let it; your growth is in that earthquake. So you hold strong— and get stronger— in places you didn’t even know existed.
You are strong in places you didn’t even know existed boosts me when I’m unsteady and need a way through. When a writing or work project falters, a relationship faces tension, daily life overwhelms— it encourages me to tap uncharted sources of my power, trusting that moments of discomfort hold enormous potential. This mantra says I can take Thrive’s “Microsteps,” to overcome challenges, for great progress builds from tiny, deep-down movements repeated again and again. You are strong in places you didn’t even know existed, and shaking in life won’t topple me; it’s the way to growth.
I should mention— there are days these intentions don’t come to fruition. I’m not some warrior goddess always sporting workout gear, motivating herself over mountains daily. Sometimes I’m insecure and curl up in my comfort zone. Sometimes I’m tired and love doing nothing. And that’s okay; I believe in self-compassion, and that amidst intense work, rest is essential for creativity, happiness, and health.
The point is that the fitness intentions are there for me, feeding me in and out of the studio. Over years of exercise classes, they have become central in my holistic well-being. Through them, I move closer to being the person I want to be. I increase my resistance, find upside-down is right side up, and, strong in places I didn’t even know existed, push toward my goals on the other side. I hope you’ll discover one or a few for yourself that inspire you nearer to yours— both during class and long after.