What I Learned When I Started Going to a Gym or, Things That Happened After My Eyebrows Ceased to Work

“My eyebrows,” I thought, “they are not performing adequately.”

The hairy arches just below one’s forehead are a body part that most of us (I imagine) take for granted. The vast majority of the time they’re just kind of there, and we don’t really think about their function of keeping sweat, dust, and general unpleasantness out of our eyeballs. I was suddenly quite aware of their function, though, because I was experiencing rather acute episode of eyebrow failure. Sweat was streaming down into my ocular bits, and I briefly thought that this might be why headbands existed. I was in a gym for the first time since college, and was being made abundantly aware of how long it had been.

Back at the U of O, I attended the student health center with some friends of mine where we’d lift weights, but since then I haven’t set foot inside any kind of facility dedicated to exercise. For some time I rationalized that I didn’t really need to, because I’m by no means fat (though I could do without the gut), I tend to eat fairly healthily, and I’m outside a lot, walking about or riding my bike.

However, that only takes you so far. A few months ago I started going to a gym and doing a regular workout, and have been surprised at how much I’ve enjoyed it. I thought it was going to be nothing but toil and pain. Instead, it’s been toil, pain, and a bunch of other stuff. Here are a few things I’ve learned from going to the gym a few times a week:

Exercise gets you high

Endorphins and adrenaline are wonderful stuff, and usually after a workout there’s a feeling of tired satisfaction. Most negative emotions that might have been hanging around earlier are gone. I feel like I’ve done something visceral and worthwhile. This probably taps into primal human urges to go outside and punch mammoths, but in a pinch a heavy bag also works.

It’s satisfying to know that the body is changeable and upgradeable

I’ve often thought of my body (and, to my detriment, the rest of me) as something that’s more or less set, an unchanging system. That’s not the case at all, though. The body is elastic, and responds to stuff around it. Thinking about my decreased waistline has been great in terms of vanity, but it’s also neat to think about it as a variable that you can actually exert some control over. Experiencing agency, especially with something as intimately yours as your belly, is kind of neat. If you can change the dimensions of your waist and arms and legs, then tackling other problems seems much more doable.

In the right context, sweat feels neat

This is going to become obsolete kind of quickly as we get into fall, but I really like the feeling of sweat evaporating off of skin. It is, after all, supposed to be a cooling system, and when I’m on my bike afterward the air against the evaporating sweat really drives home what that wet stuff on your skin is actually for.

Pain can sometimes be fun

I’m not the kind of person who’d jam a needle into my palm just to feel something (those people are weird), but there is something kind of appealing about experiencing pain and then powering through it. Being able to endure something unpleasant, and walk out the better for it is a great way to feel powerful and able to actually do stuff.

More than anything else, it increases self-awareness

Not self-consciousness. Awareness. Now that I exercise on a frequent basis, I feel like I’m more aware of what my various bits are doing at a given time. I’m aware of my arms and legs and what my body is like and what it’s doing. I’m not going to claim that I’m some kind of super-conscious kung-fu master, but I have a better sense of what my corporeal being is doing now that I exercise. My various bits seem more my own now and something control, rather than something I just use and inhabit. For that reason alone, I’ll keep going back and having my eyebrows fail.

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