Still, In Motion

Three days after Thanksgiving, I am racing against a red mustang to get to the last empty parking space at Club Fitness. Coming from the opposite direction, he loops into the diagonal spot. There are a few ways that I could have shown my disapproval. But I dare not challenge him. He looks as if he lives off of Muscle Milk.

One more lap around and I decide to park a few storefronts down. I’m sure that just before the holidays, I could have ignored these lanes and simply cut through parking spaces.

I use the slight jog through damp weather as a small warm-up for my scheduled 3-miler. But in case the selection of treadmills looked anything like the lot, I start to think of alternative cardio.

Walking into the gym, I’m greeted by “Extended Black Friday” vendors selling handmade trinkets, koozies and perfumes. Tempting. I politely decline.

 

This has been my month of attempted focus. Being still. My greatest challenge to date. By work contract, I have eliminated the option of changing jobs, cities, countries. Good. I’ve got the physical part down. Now, the mental. Being still. It’s a practice of listening to God and to others, and tuning out those subtle selfish desires of being someplace else…in location, in status, in life. Overthinking, when unnecessary. How successful have I been? Well…

Tonight, I blame the vibe in the room. Perhaps it’s the live DJ or everyone feeling good in their new apparel. Or just the crowd, in general. Everyone seems to be part of a pair, probably due to the $10 holiday joining fee. As a single, I missed the memo. Walking to the back, I look down and see newly laid matting. The “new carpet smell” is no challenge to the cologne doused over sweaty gym clothes of the bench presser. That machine wasn’t there before. I try to remember the last time I’ve been here. Why does it even matter? Grab a treadmill.

As predicted, the only cardio left to choose from was the Stairmaster or stationary bike. I go for the Stairmaster, the perfect spot for people-watching. The gym is one of the few places where people are expectedly nosey. A wiry little woman, likely in her 80s, browses the aisles of machines, looking at the picture instructions. I opt to scope out the trainer who turns this knob or clips that bar to convert focus from biceps to triceps. Then there’s that guy, who performs handstands and bear crawls across the gym.

It’s getting hot. Shedding a layer, I drape my jacket over the timer. All of the varying body shapes interest me. On one side of the gym, there’s the one woman who’s found a balance between feminine curves and muscular strength. I look around and many eyes, male and female, unbashfully eye her as she executes a burpee routine notorious for sculpted derrieres. Three machines down, an overly tanned brunette removes a sweat vest, to reveal abs of perfect symmetry… in the winter… after Thanksgiving. Figure competitor, I’m guessing. I pass the next 10 minutes spotting which women are long-distance runners vs. Sprinters. It’s all in the quads. The leg press machine just opened up. Wipe down.

The Crossfit cage is in my new line of eyesight. A brawny guy wearing a slit tank is knocking out pull-ups with simplicity. A back riddled with indentations that would put an anatomy major in awe. He knows this.

“There’s the trapezius muscle. And the latissimus dorsi..”

He drops down, shakes his arms out, turns around and is wearing a firefighter shirt. Makes sense…

There’s someone with a good sense of humor. A shirt saying, “I RUN better than the government”. He’s a marathoner sporting a 26.1 on the back. Then I spot bright orange, across the gym. A fellow Tennessee Vol. I decide to make that my route out the gym. After chatting, I find that he’s not an actual Vol, just lived near Knoxville. Meh…

Only until I’m seated in the car, as the rain hits the windshield, do I realize that zoning out as intended, never happened. “Be Still” fail. Tomorrow, perhaps I’ll try a run. Not my normal traffic-filled route. I need silence. Can I stay motivated without my tunes? Maybe I should leave my phone at home. But how would I track my time?….be_still 5

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I’ve got a feeling we’re not in the U.S. anymore.

Yesterday, I finally got a chance to go window-shopping at a huge mall, here in Saudi. I almost felt at home, seeing all the familiar name brand retailers and restaurants. Notice, that I said “almost”.. The little reminders, that I’m not in the U.S., was constant. Not bad, but just gets you thinking “where in the world, am I?”

      1. So, I step into the first shop. One that I know well; Nike! I was quite surprised to see workout-wear for women, being that this city doesn’t seem to encourage female gyms. They are here, but in much smaller numbers than the males-only gyms, of course. I read that womens gyms were in abundance back in 2009 (Black, 2009). But due to the protest of the conservative crowd, who felt that these facilities take women away from their homes/husbands/children, many were shut down.Although, there were clothes..none of the fitness stores in this mall had equipment geared towards women. Now, this mall is massive! Why did I not find even one Yoga mat, dumbbell, or a real running shoe?
      2. As I go into the next store (“Express”), I’m humming “Con los ojos cerrados”… then I suddenly stop.. look up.. and realize there is no music playing. “Am I going crazy? Music does normally play in American stores, right??” I walk over to the next store, and same thing. No music! I talk to someone the next day about this, and she tells me so matter-of-factly that music is haram (sinful) according to Islamic Shari’ah. I know it shouldn’t be a big deal, but it’s SO odd going into a totally silent store, wanting to say something to your shopping buddy, but feeling that you need to whisper because your English is going to draw attention. My blond friend already stands out enough!
      3. I walk into a store with some really cute going-out wear. Where in the world, are these abaya-clad women going to wear these outfits?? Now, maybe I’m simply naïve to this other life of Arabian women.. but short skirts, tanks, tight and sheer? These are the same women who wear skirts to their ankles and loose shirts to their elbows, to class… and the abaya in public.
      4. ALL of these stores were ran by men, even MAC and Victoria Secrets.. These are the same men who are not to see a woman “uncovered”, except for his wife and family members. I must also say that Victoria Secrets had absolutely no lingerie.. Apparently men are not banned from selling female underwear .. So, where are they getting them from is my next question. The only females that I have seen working so far, in this country, were the foreigners.. and a few Saudis in salons/spas. But according to the Buchanan’s article, women will soon be allowed to work in this industry (Buchanan, 2012).
      5. In these retail stores, I almost never saw a dressing room.. This is a shop-happy culture. With so much money and free time, what else are the women to do? A dressing room would get a lot of use in this country. But, instead there’s a pretty relaxed return policy.

Little differences, but enough of them to make an interesting experience..

Black, I. (2009). Saudi Women Face Gyms Ban. The Gaurdian.Retrieved on March 13th, 2012 from <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/apr/26/saudi-women-sports-ban>

Buchanan, E. (2012). Women Only to Work in Saudi Arabia Lingerie Shops. BBC News. Retrieved on March 13, 2012 from <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-16412202 >