For the past few months, I have experienced a dull ache in my chest that has perplexed me. Although my dog caring business has taken a big hit due to the pandemic, my savings, supportive partner, and the measly US stimulus check have kept me afloat. Countless times my other half and I have spoken about our gratefulness for the local parks, a balcony, our healthy relationship, and relative financial security. There are people far more pressed than we are. I also have a job I love that provides me time for plenty of self-care and focus on what matters to me, so the dull ache has been a surprise.
I learned the hard way not to suppress these feelings. All experiences are relative, and if you let your “unwarranted” ache go unexplored, it comes out in all sorts of ways that very well could damage not only yourself but others. We have a civic responsibility to sit with our feelings.
As I pondered on the ache, I realized it is only natural to experience these uncomfortable feelings when living through a once-in-a-century pandemic combined with political turmoil and blatant white supremacy that calls for unearthing complicity. We are feeling a sense of destabilization.
Taking Care of My Body
At the start of the pandemic, I committed to using the unexpected space in my calendar for physical health. I had steadily gained weight over a couple of years, and it startled me when I suddenly realized I was technically overweight. My self-esteem is robust enough that I didn’t even notice.
I began eating and exercising with intention, which led to a slow but steady loss of 27 pounds to get me to a healthy range for my body composition. I recently lost my interest in working out at home, so I took my mask and headed back to the local gym I have been paying for, but not using. Variety always gets me excited about exercise again — cue yet another lockdown.
After the gym shut, I tried going back to the on-demand classes I used initially, but I could no longer stomach paying for their slightly sexist and racist undertones. (Yes, even a work out program can express the issues of the culture it sits within).
In my quest to find a new workout to inspire me, I found more and more of the same ole same ole. “Get shredded in 30 days”, “push your limits”, “drink this protein shake we have tacked on to our program”. Gag. I struggle with fitness culture, though I have the utmost respect and understanding that other people thrive in the environment.
Admitting What I Need
I finally decided to face my allergy to Goop and see what they recommended because let’s be real — I am more Goop-y than I care to admit — and I read about The Class by Taryn Toomey. Maybe I’m the only person who hasn’t discovered “The Class”, but in case I’m not:
“The Class by Taryn Toomey is one of those if-you-know-you-know kind of workouts. But it’s hard to even call it a workout: What happens during those sixty minutes is more than just an exercise in strength. It’s a cathartic release. One that’s fueled by Fleetwood Mac on blast, heart-rate-boosting burpees, freestyle dancing, endorphin-releasing roaring — all with the general theme of getting out of your own damn head.” — Goop
I ignored my reactive resistance to the absolute “Goop-y-ness” of that description and admitted that I liked every word of it. Researching into The Class more, I uncovered the spiritual and somatic components, which was all I needed to sign up for the free trial of their digital studio. It’s worth noting that The Class will not be affordable for many people — the only criticism I have so far — but the digital service is more affordable and I have rearranged my budget to accommodate it.
I took my first class this morning, and although I doubted I would shed the tears many evangelists of The Class speak of, I unexpectedly felt a rush of cathartic tears fall down my cheeks towards the end of the workout. What on earth makes The Class able to do that?
Perhaps those of us who resonate with The Class are primed for a transcendental experience.
“Andrew Newberg, a neuroscientist who studies the brain in light of religious experience, has spent his career following this hunch. “If you contemplate God long enough,” he writes in How God Changes Your Brain, “something surprising happens in the brain. Neural functioning begins to change. Different circuits become activated, while others become deactivated. New dendrites are formed, new synaptic connections are made, and the brain becomes more sensitive to subtle realms of experience. Perceptions alter, beliefs begin to change, and if God has meaning for you, then God becomes neurologically real.” — Brandon Ambrosino for BBC
If you have a broad view of the word “God”, this very well could be why spiritual people resonate with The Class. I’m a born and bred Southern Baptist turned Charismatic Christian turned spiritual agnostic theist, so I have had my fair share of tapping into ecstatic feelings. Whether you agree that those feelings are from a higher power or created by my own mind isn’t the point. I may be predisposed to the kind of cathartic experience The Class brings, but that is only a portion of why I believe it is revelatory.
Pushing Limits From a Spiritual Perspective
I grew up taking piano and singing lessons. The only sport I engaged in was volleyball for two years and dance for seven. Five of those dance years were under the age of 10, so I never got to the intense level where dance becomes a high-intensity form of conditioning. I’ve always loved yoga, and I’ve dabbled in my most hated nemesis — cardio — but I’m a proud quitter when it comes to reaching my limits. I’m never embarrassed to lay flat out on the floor of a public class when there are still 10 reps to go. My stamina is lacking.
I’ve built up my limits over time, but I have a tendency to drive myself to a familiar form of pain and then pull back. I understand on a conscious level that pushing beyond your limits can be liberating and euphoric, but a buff man yelling at me to “PUSH THROUGH!” has never motivated me. It actually distracts me from the inner peace I need to carry on when it hurts.
The Class is intense, but it is the furthest I have pushed myself yet, and it is because of the depths of their calls to press through. When I listen to those buff men yelling at me, I hear “this is what it takes to be buff like me” or “show yourself what you’re made of” or “keep pushing for those endorphins”. When I hear a teacher in The Class gently tell me from the depths of their own pain that I can sit with mine, I hear a battle cry of the soul.
The Focus on the Breath
Most exercise coaches talk about using and not forgetting about the breath. To me, it always feels more like a practical tool when they say it, whereas in practices like yoga, it comes from “life is breath”. It’s rooted in the science and ancient wisdom of meditative breathing. It’s a way to calm down your nervous system that is flaring up in the danger of outer and inner pain.
Teachers intentionally take you back to your breathing throughout The Class, either close to the end of a high-intensity interval when you want to give up or in between sets. Breathing is a way to sit with the inner and outer discomfort rather than tap out or repress it, waiting for the pain to be over.
Encouragement to Expel Energy
The dull ache in my chest has been morphing into overwhelm and pent up energy, especially after last week at the Capitol. I have felt the need to scream into my pillow or wail. Part of what made The Class attractive for me was that the connection between inner and outer pain wasn’t an afterthought or wrapped up in cheesy self-growth platitudes. The inner pain that comes up from pushing through external pain is given the respect and sacredness it deserves in The Class. It’s the whole point. It’s a space for a holy moment.
Throughout the practice, you are encouraged to expel whatever is pent up inside you through movement and sound. Sighs and yells are welcomed. Tears are normal. I imagine if I started crying in my Brazilian Booty class, my teacher would be kind but would think something awful happened that they need to fix.
Not Requiring Language or Thought
The sets are long and repetitive in The Class, which provided a space for me to fully tune in to the discomfort coming up for me, rather than keep up with intricate steps and changes. I was left with only pain and discomfort. No thinking, just being. More than that, the movements themselves are less like reps and more like a dance. There is a flow and beauty to them, heightening and complementing the experience if you can tap into The Class’s more profound element.
Much of what makes somatic healing interesting is that it bypasses the need to rehash and dissect problems.
“Somatic therapy combines talk therapy with what are sometimes considered alternative forms of physical therapy. The therapist helps you revive memories of traumatic experiences and pays attention to any physical responses you have once the memory is recovered. Physical techniques, such as deep breathing, relaxation exercises, and meditation are then used to help relieve symptoms. Some of the adjunctive physical techniques that may be used with somatic therapy include dance, exercise, yoga, or other types of movement, vocal work, and massage.
The theory behind somatic therapy is that the mind, body, spirit, and emotions are all related and connected to each other. As a result, the stress of past emotional and traumatic events affects the central nervous system and can cause changes in the body. Through developing awareness of the mind-body connection and using specific interventions, somatic therapy helps you to release the tension, anger, frustration and other emotions that remain in your body from these past negative experiences.”
The Class uses movement to get straight to the nervous system, and for the issues that we don’t have language for, it provides a way to heal and soothe. The acceptance of using your voice in the class offers an outlet and gives you permission to do whatever it is you need to do to “let that shit go”.
Note: The Class is not an official or accredited form of somatic therapy; I’m merely drawing on its wisdom. Consult a licensed practitioner if you are interested in exploring this form of therapy.
Amidst this experience, I forgot I was exercising. It felt more like church — like I was coming home to myself. I relished every moment, and the only way I know I did a workout is the intense pain starting to radiate in my muscles as I type this. The ache in my heart is still there, but even with just one session, it feels like I’m kneading it; opening it up so it can heal.
I recommend The Class to anyone who likes to touch the divine enjoys yoga or meditation and wants an intense workout that gets to the heart of ourselves.