Cycling toward Sanity During COVID-19

Why Crying in Spin Class was Cathartic

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It’s not always easy to get on your bike, lace up your running shoes or step onto your yoga mat. Life sometimes conspires to prevent it but, more often, your mind leads you in a different direction.

Last week, I signed up for a live-from-home class on Sunday with Peloton instructor Jenn Sherman. Signing up in advance for things helps me show up. But, lying in bed on Sunday morning with the day stretching before me and no plans on the horizon, I could have easily stayed there until noon. Jenn Sherman certainly wouldn’t notice if I was or wasn’t in class.

But I signed up. I made an agreement with me. Sighing, I got out of bed, into my workout clothes, and onto the bike.

Sherman mentioned it was her son’s 20th birthday. It seemed she was not going to see him, presumably due to the pandemic, and was sad about it. She said she asked herself before the class “am I really getting on the fucking bike?” I liked hearing that it’s not always easy to show up on the bike even if you’re getting paid to do it, that even exercise gurus have gremlins.

With that, she led her class with a passionate, intense, single-minded focus on getting those legs moving and climbing, moving and climbing. It was a mix-tape class with no particular musical focus – just songs that Sherman selected for this time, both in the world and on the bike.

Bette Midler’s classic “From a Distance” began to play. This song has a history with me. First, I love Bette Midler. The song’s author, Julie Gold, is a local and I heard her sing it on my birthday many years ago. “From a Distance” became an anthem during the Gulf War in 1991.

That song, with its dueling themes of incomprehension and hope together with the moving vocals of Midler made me lose it on the bike. It leveled me. I cried, I cursed, I climbed, and it was cathartic.

“From a Distance” explores how differently things look up close than from far away. This weekend especially, the line “from a distance there is harmony and it echoes through the land” was particularly poignant as our country exploded over ongoing and outrageous racial injustice.

And the words “from a distance” have a new and painful meaning around the world as we carefully connect that way with our friends and relatives knowing it’s as close as we’re likely to get for a while. Social isolation – not being with your child on his birthday, with your mom on Mother’s day and the endless relationship permutations this pandemic has tested– is hard.

Getting on a bike and leading a class, Sherman had two choices. She could pretend all was well and play the part of enthusiastic exercise instructor for 30 minutes. Or, she could show up as a human being, letting us in, just a tiny bit, on her world and connecting it with ours.

Sunday was more than just a good workout. I got the usual physical benefits and also some soul conditioning. A shot to the spirit. For a moment, my tears mixed in with my sweat and the release of exercise and emotion was sweet relief.

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