It's a little hard to know where to start this blog. And, as many of us know, life is not a linear journey. And like life, my writing does not follow a steady or linear trajectory either.
However as Barre Base celebrates its 5th birthday, I felt it was time to give the benefits page a little spruce up. Looking at what is currently on the benefits webpage, this is what barre training offered me as a 22-year-old. The benefits of barre that I felt at 22 still exist in some ways, but at 27, it’s grown to reflect something bigger than the benefits of fitness at face value.
Alongside Barre Base, I also work full time as a Marketing Manager at a tech company. This is a very fun job but certainly is not without its challenges. Learning my manage myself and emotions within a workplace, manage and support others, achieve KPIs, and continuously up-skill to meet the demands of an extremely high-growth company. I am extremely lucky to be in the role that I am, but it has added a whole new layer of intensity to my life — which has meant my needs from exercise have also shifted.
Alongside work, there are also everyday challenges or obligations which you choose to pursue (or not). Perhaps this is saving, buying a home, working in the garden, DIY, spending time with family, building friendships and relationships — and (heck!) trying to also find time to fill your own cup.
As my life has shifted and grown, my priorities have changed. And this includes how I view exercise.
Exercise is even more important to me now as I age, and I absolutely treasure and fight for this valuable 'me-time'. However my 'why' has changed, and the benefits I receive have amplified and shifted. Here are just a few of the benefits that I get from Barre Base. I would love to know yours.
Barre Base gives me time to take a conscious breath. Time to pause, reflect and perhaps feel my breath inside my body for the first time all day. Some days, barre offers me a space to work on handling stress. Some days, I can really turn off the outside world and tune into my body. Other days this is harder, and I am simply there to power through physically, despite my mind being totally elsewhere. Whatever happens, I am still moving, and it's still helpful.
As teachers, we stress mindfulness... but in reality, it isn’t as simple as being conscious at every given point in a class or each session. What exercises teaches us, though, is that we can start to be aware of how things change from practice to practice, and perhaps why on some days it's harder to turn off from our external world than on others.
Stress management is a journey, and Barre Base is my sanctuary to explore the best ways of dealing with stressful situations, or, just smashing out with some plies when I may have just had a challenging day!
Time away from devices and “Should be Doings”
Guilt creeps in from time to time. I 'should' be at home cooking dinner or I 'should' be finishing that proposal. No. I am actually just where I need to be.
60 minutes with devices out of sight. 60 minutes inside my body and mind. 60 minutes with a positive community of people by my side. This time is so incredibly valuable. And once I give myself this time, I feel an unusual coalescence of calm, energised, clear and elated all at once. Something that seemed an issue 60 minutes ago now takes on a different meaning (or actually no longer has any meaning).
Giving yourself time and space is sometimes all that we need, without the steady bombardment of notifications in your peripheral vision.
Moving away from Dunedin in 2018 was one of the biggest learning curves for me. Growing up here, I have always had a group of friends and companions. I had never felt alone.
Moving to a new city, this all shifted. I didn’t have a girlfriend to grab a coffee with... to rant about my week with. To laugh, or even to sit in silence with. This meant I had a lot of time alone, but also meant I had to force myself out of my comfort zone. It’s funny how as a child it’s so much easier to make friends?
A friend (Caoimhe) had said to me that making friends in a new city was like dating again “Just get out of your comfort zone, and ask them out for a coffee.”
After a year in Aussie, I didn’t meet many people, but I had a lot of time to reflect and grow. What it made me realise, however, is that others within our community may also be in the same boat. You never know who may feel alone, and who would really benefit from someone noticing them and including them.
Ask that person to join you for a coffee after class. Make everyone feel welcome. You have no idea what that could mean for someone who is feeling alone here. And you never know what you may have in common!
Fitness is amazing as it brings people together — whatever you’re hoping to achieve from a fitness class, you have something in common. You’re showing up, making time for yourself, and looking to make positive change.
It’s relatable and it’s a real connection. Start there.
I am incredibly grateful for the positive community I am able to surround myself with every day, and the lifelong friends I have made along the way.
Strength. Yes, this is still relevant. But more than that, it’s about feeling empowered to do things we want to do outside of the studio. Hike that hill with friends, jump on a bike again after 5 years and feel strong doing so. Stand taller as a consequence of that additional strength.
Yes, we work on seeking a stronger core, yes our glutes will be worked, yes our planks will be longer and stronger. But think about everything else that these benefits offer us? That’s the true benefit and gift of exercise! It’s the feeling of empowerment in our bodies and gratitude for the strength we have (irrespective of how our strength “looks” beside someone else’s). You grow stronger week to week. From your base level, not some else’s.
Increased mobility and flexibility
Still relevant, but more so now it's about finding freedom. I have learned to first identify tension... accept it, and begin to let it go.
Tension and stress will never go away totally in our lives. The ebbs and flows of life, the weather or personal experiences bring these feelings on. The learning here, however, is that these classes give you the tools to deal with these feelings. To identify them, to move with them, to breathe and to begin to let them go. Like anything, the more practised you are at doing this, the quicker you’ll find relief each time.
Stress is the number one cause of tension. When the body is stressed, muscles tense up. Muscle tension is almost a reflex reaction to stress — the body's way of guarding against injury and pain. When muscles are taut and tense for long periods of time, this may trigger other reactions of the body and even promote stress-related disorders. For example, both tension-type headache and migraine headache are associated with chronic muscle tension in the area of the shoulders, neck and head. Musculoskeletal pain in the low back and upper extremities has also been linked to stress, especially stress from the workplace.
Connective tissue or fascia in the body responds best when we tap into our parasympathetic nervous system (the system that allows our body to rest and digest). One way to tap into this system is to simply breathe.
Which brings me to the next point, learning to connect with your breath.
More than ever, I have become obsessed with breathing. When we start to take slow and long breaths, we begin to feel the connectivity between the mind, body, and our heart rate! Knowing these systems are interconnected is a huge step in the right direction when we're learning to deal with emotions — or learning to overcome challenges (inside the studio or elsewhere). Need more energy? Breathe. Need to calm down? Breathe. Need to concentrate? Breathe. It's a powerful tool that is at your disposal. It's always there with us.
Breathing deeply also allows you to find deeper stretches, and identify and unlock the sticky and tight connective tissue in the body. Seriously, I could talk about breath all day.
The mental strength we gain through exercise is extremely transferable in life. If you can handle 32 more pulses, then you can handle anything. Not really... but the mental strength that results from discipline is invaluable for life!
Equally, it's about learning when enough is enough for you. Learn to listen and observe your thoughts. Learn to react in a way that best serves you.
Fitness is like a Petri dish for life — it's an experiment and practice for the ways we navigate through life's challenges. That includes the way we find our inner strength. But also, just as much, about how we learn to trust our bodies and let go. We learn that nothing lasts forever but we also learn to find balance in a world that is constantly shifting. What may have been needed yesterday has shifted today. Embrace it, and learn to read what you need from fitness at any given moment.
Freedom from thinking we should look a certain way
Weight loss may be a result of your workouts and if that was what you were looking for, then great. But I believe what is more important is you’ve gained in this process. It’s so incredibly freeing when weight loss isn’t at the forefront of our training. Let’s focus on for strength, energy, focus, persistence, community and freedom — both physically and mentally.
What is most exciting about looking into the benefits of Barre Base is that everyone experiences something different. We may share similar benefits to others, yet these experiences are unique and have fulfilled something personal in each and every one of us.
These benefits may shift again within the next month for me. It's a journey, and that is what I love most about exercise.
I would love to know what personal benefits you have found throughout your fitness journey.