Chatting to a lady just the other day, who is about to join my latest fitness programme in Burbage, our stories were very similar.
We both chatted about our backgrounds, both of us had lived overseas as children, in the Far East, my dad was in the Forces, her dad worked in the oil business and so both of us knew what it was/is like to walk into a situation completely on your own, not knowing who you’re likely to meet and just how that feels. One of the reason she’d chosen to come and join my programme is that she thought it would be friendly. As life has moved on, children had come onto the scene, similarly to me, she’d left the corporate world and stepped into the ‘mum’ world and as so many of us do, lost confidence along the way. She wanted to join something where she felt she would be welcomed and the confidence she lost would have a chance to surface again. Along with that she felt the fitness plan looked simple, structured and she knows someone who’s taken part in the fitness programme before!
We talked some more and we talked about the different styles of fitness classes that you can do as part of this programme (in all classes there are low impact, lower intensity options of exercises offered, conversely if you are a fit bunny, progressions are offered!) we talked about the Stretch and Tone class and she related it to a yoga class she used to attend (in London) where everyone would come in, no one would speak to you, barely the instructor, certainly not the other class participants. You would do the class, roll your mat up and leave, still not having spoken to anyone! During the class, much like travelling on the tube, although you’re in close proximity, no one even shares eye contact! How lonely is that? We both laughed, but when you’re in it, it’s not a laughing matter and I’ve been there too!
I’ve done Yoga classes and Pilates classes in the past that are very similar. Sometimes, the instructor didn’t even say good bye to you, even though you tried to say goodbye yourself and make contact.
I so remember, being alone, walking into new schools, and other environments as a child, then in the workplace, at the school gate with other mums, toddlers, fitness classes, gyms, all of it! I’m probably super sensitive to it, but as a result, one of the things I do; is make sure that as new people start they are introduced to others in the class. The Stretch and Tone classes particularly, they are small, half a dozen of us normally and we all know who we are! It would just feel wrong to stretch and move in the way we do, in such a small, intimate class environment, without knowing each other’s names and having a bit of a chat as the class progresses. Friendships are made, connections made, community formed. We are all human at the end of the day and humans thrive on community and relationship, healthy relationship.
I experienced just recently what it’s like to attend classes when you’re new. Something I do, if I’m off, or in a new area, we can learn so much from each other, we’re all individual and do things differently, but we always learn new things. At this particular class the environment was quite intimidating, the desk was in the gym setting, so you needed to walk through and past equipment and others to register. I went with someone else and we weren’t sure what we should be doing; and we needed to ask, how we registered, paid and where we put our things and what we were to do. Others in the class had picked some kit up to start a warm up. To be honest, we didn’t know what we were to do, so we just copied, picked up the same kit as them and did the same, or what we thought was the same. Then we were directed to pick up some more kit and the class started. Very different to the sorts of classes I run, in all sorts of ways, but throughout, each person was in their own ‘zone’, with the exception of one person (who used to come to my classes) no one spoke to us, until after the class when we were asking about prices and membership, only then did one of the other participants talk to us.
So although we enjoyed the class, as it involved doing the kinds of things we love doing, we were pretty clueless as to what we really should be doing and how the class was likely to progress. Both of us agreed had we gone on our own, the experience would’ve been much more intimidating, and I’m a Fitness instructor, it was my environment!
It just really highlighted for me once more just how important it is to welcome people, make them feel at ease, make them feel as though they belong, that this is a place they can come to and they are just going to be accepted, not judged or gawped at in any way, that it’s fine for them to start where they are. Directing people and telling people what’s going to happen and how to use the kit and what we’ll do is really important, I feel, in helping people enjoy the experience as much as they can. I make sure, as the instructor I introduce myself and am as open and approachable as I can be. I want people to feel comfortable, not to feel intimidated. It can be scary enough plucking up the courage to come to a class and walk in on your own, once in, I want to make that as comfortable and welcoming experience as is possible, in order that you feel like you want to work hard and enjoy the classes!