Gaining Strength by Going Gently

by Angie Maddison

When the alarm sounded at 5:30am this morning, my instinct was to roll over and go back to the relative safety of sleep. But the inner dialogue had already begun.

Get up, Angie. Go to the gym. You will feel better once it is done. You will regret it if you don’t go.

I wrestled with these thoughts for ten minutes or so, at one point committing to another hour of sleep, but my mind would not quieten and I knew I had to move.

I slipped quietly from the house, leaving my sweet, sleeping family for the crisp early morning air. The sky was still dark and felt like it weighed a tonne.

On a normal day, being up at this time is exhilarating, as though I’m in on a secret most people are missing. I feel alive with the promise of a day started right.

But my frame of mind was not great and so the darkness felt lonely, as though I was the only one awake, vulnerable to sinister things hidden in shadows.

In the car, I tried to drown my jitters with music, longing for 6 o’clock and the comfort of a real and live person reading the news.

I wondered how many other people in the world sought the company of radio host voices. It made me sad.

I stood at the underground entrance of the gym with several other people, waiting for the automatic doors to open. Two women were complaining that the gym staff were perpetually late in opening these doors, the several minutes wasted by incompetence throwing days into chaos. They glanced my way for an affirming nod but I couldn’t give it. Their words felt petty, abrasive, scrubbing against me like steel wool. I was in no condition for steel wool words.

Finally, I made it upstairs and saw that the Pump class was already underway. I could have joined them, they were just warming up, but the garish fluorescent lights and pounding music repelled me. I peeked into the other studio and noted the bodies lying prone on the floor as an instructor walked quietly between them, kneeling down every so often to whisper quietly.

I pushed the door open tentatively,

“What’s this class?” I asked the nearest body.

“Yoga,” she said. “It’s only just started.”

It felt like a sign.

I rolled a mat out and lay on the floor. I placed a weighted plate on my abdomen like everyone else was doing. The instructor approached me.

“Focus on where the plate is. Try and lift it with your breath.”

Diaphragm breathing. Okay. I know this one.

The class continued on in that slow and steady way that Yoga classes do. It was a core- focused class so lots of breathing and pelvic floor work. Lots of time to think…and for bad thoughts to creep in.

I could hear the incessant boom boom boom of the Pump class next door, could hear the instructor pushing for more, more, more. I should have been in there, breathless and hurting.

I should have been pushing myself through pain, everything loud and fast and leaving no time to think.

But I was stuck in this quiet space, being gently encouraged to strengthen my body, to nourish my soul with mindfulness. But what if your mind is a poisoned well and you’d rather be anywhere but in it?

I kept on, breathing into poses and out of them again. I let the instructor’s voice soothe me. I tried my best to focus. And before I knew it, the class was wrapping up.

We lay just as we had begun, flat on our backs, our palms turned to the ceiling, eyes closed.

Nothing but the breath. I could sense that the instructor was moving from person to person.

As she came to me, my eyes flew open just as she was placing the weight back on my abdomen. Without a word, she moved to the next person. And I felt the intimacy of that gesture crack me open. From the small but deep hollowness in my belly, that place where I store all my sad, I began to sob. Big, wracking sobs that I’m sure the woman beside me could hear. Tears welled and broke, and I let them.

Holy fuck, sometimes you just need to cry.

Returning to my car, I saw that the sun was making its way into the sky, painting even the most shadowy corners golden, and I felt hopeful.

This morning, I went to the gym. I did not punish my body. I did not feel the burn.

But I felt lighter than I have in a long time.


Angie Maddison is a freelance writer and and blogger at The Little Mumma. She writes about the challenges of motherhood, womanhood and staying sane through both. She lives in Melbourne with her husband and three kids. You can follow her adventures on Facebook and Instagram.