After work one evening last fall, I decided to use up my remaining ClassPass credits on a barre class nearby. I had taken barre a few times before with varying degrees of success, so I felt at least decently prepared for what was to come. The instructor, an energetic, tall woman wearing branded leggings, a matching sports bra, and the grippy socks they always try to sell you, gave me a rundown of the class after I told her I’d never visited the studio before. It sounded fine, fun even. But as we got started, I realized that it was Not Fine and also Not Fun. I have the flexibility of a steel beam, so every lift, pulse, and plié was met with the snap, crackle, and pop of a different body part. I couldn’t keep up with the speed at which sumo squats were being performed and was always two steps behind during the rhythmic aerobic portions of class.
The instructor touted the class as a celebration of all bodies, but all my body felt was embarrassment. I imagined that every pastel-wearing dance mom was judging me, that my athletic frame and genetic predisposition to excessive perspiration did not belong in the room. After class, I rushed out and swore to never return. As a former field hockey player and current cycling instructor, I vowed to stick to what I know: HIIT, cycling, strength training, and the occasional run. I’d do yoga, but only if it was in a candlelit room so that nobody could see me flailing as I made my way from a power lunge to Warrior III.
This routine was working for me for a while. I’d go from taking an early morning HIIT class to work, or from work to teach a cycling class. Recovery? Maybe a hot yoga class once a week. Stretching? Didn’t know her.
And then, boom. The coronavirus pandemic hit in early March and effectively uprooted our lives. I lost my teaching job once the gyms closed and thus my access to an indoor cycling bike. I moved back in with my parents and set up my home gym in the basement: A few dumbbells and kettlebells my dad snagged from his small company fitness center, two-pound ankle weights from 1986, some resistance bands I found at Marshall’s pre-coronavirus, and my yoga mat. I would go down to my “gym” after work and do an intense 45-minute HIIT workout, sometimes four times a week. I also did frequent jogs, despite painful shin splints. I hosted live workouts on Instagram and also filmed them for IGTV.
After a few weeks of this routine, I burned out. Some of my PCOS symptoms like acne, hair loss, and trouble sleeping started flaring up. My muscles were tight and inflamed. Turns out, despite leaving the hustle and bustle of New York City, I was still putting my body under excruciating stress. I didn’t think about the innate stress a pandemic puts on a person, even if they’re not directly affected by the virus. That, compounded with high-intensity exercise almost every day, is a recipe for disaster for anyone, let alone someone with a hormone condition like PCOS. I realized that if I wanted to actually become a healthy individual, I had to reduce the stressors that I had control over. And that meant—gulp—changing the way I exercised.
So I swallowed my pride and tried a new home workout routine—one that intimidated me. I bought a subscription for my favorite yoga studio’s virtual classes and apprehensively signed up for a 15-day free trial to the barre studio that felt the least intimidating. I even bookmarked Pilates routines on Instagram.
And so I practiced. I committed to regular low-impact exercise and emphasized recovery. I toppled and wobbled my way through yoga asanas and screamed expletives at my computer screen when the barre instructor led me into a wide plié. I put my foam roller next to my bed to remind myself to stretch and intentionally chose workouts that included balancing exercises and rhythmic aerobics.
Working out at home protects me from the judgment I perceived in the IRL studio. The instructor can’t gawk at my poor hip mobility nor can the hot moms shoot me side-eyes when my side lunges just aren’t cutting it. It’s just me, listening to my body, beginning to learn when I can push harder and when I need to scale back.
In using this time at home to practice mindful movement and try the lower-impact workouts I avoided for so long, I’ve created a safe space to fail and flail. Most importantly, though, I’ve learned that I’m actually capable of the things I used to be too afraid to try. My Half Moon Pose is pretty phenomenal for a girl whose hips do lie, and I’m starting to look normal, graceful even, during those balletesque cardio drills.
So maybe, just maybe, I’ll make an appearance at that barre studio again once the world opens back up.
Originally Appeared on SELF