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Returning to My Sanctuary After a Year

By Ayanna Muata, YWCA Fitness Member
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In this blog post, fitness member Ayanna reflects on her experience joining YWCA Minneapolis and returning to the gym after a year away due to COVID-19.

I first became a YWCA Minneapolis fitness member sometime between 2010 and 2011. I was in my mid-40s at the time, and I was moving through a difficult time in my life. Family health concerns were causing a great deal of stress and anxiety, so fitness, diet and nutrition were becoming more and more important as a method of self-care and stress management.

I had in my experience previously only one six-month trial membership at a commercial gym in St. Paul. But I work full time, so I struggled to get there through rush hour, and the culture was a lot different from what I am more comfortable with. (There were mostly only younger people and a lot less racial diversity.) I was a lot less motivated to attend.

Noticing YWCA in My Neighborhood

Running errands in my neighborhood one day, I noticed YWCA as I sat in my car sitting at a stoplight. I decided to pull into the parking lot to check out the facility and inquire about rates and membership benefits. 

Immediately, I felt welcomed. I saw people who looked like me all throughout the building. I saw seniors, younger people and children — and as a longtime resident of South Minneapolis’ Longfellow neighborhood, I saw many of my neighbors and friends too! That felt great.

Pausing My Membership In the Early Months of the Pandemic

Unfortunately, the pandemic made things extremely difficult. During the early months, as we went into extended lockdown, I knew I would be unable to continue with my routine, and I knew that every penny mattered, so I felt it was necessary to pause my membership.

As a result, my physical health suffered from the inability to keep up with my routine, and I was challenged to move through one of the most stressful and anxiety-inducing periods I can ever remember!

Since I am a longtime member, many people at YWCA Midtown know that I religiously attend and am quite rigid about my routines — even down to the machines I use!. Oh, if those treadmills could talk, the stories they would tell! That interruption was extremely hard.

Starting My Workout Routine Again

I was very concerned about returning to YWCA, and I wasn’t entirely sure that I would! As a middle-aged Black woman, I take this virus very seriously, so COVID safety is important to me. However, I also value fitness, diet and nutrition greatly. I knew that as things started to open up a little more, and I became fully vaccinated, it was going to be important for me to explore my options and see whether or not I might be able to return to the facility and start my workout routine again.

Cathartic to Return

In March of 2021, I stepped inside YWCA Midtown for the very first time in over one full year! Wow! It was so weird and so cathartic all at once. My eyes teared up, honestly. I nervously asked if I could take a quick peek at the space to see if the machines were spaced out enough for me to feel comfortable. 

In March of 2021, I stepped inside YWCA Midtown for the very first time in over one full year! Wow! It was so weird and so cathartic all at once.”

When I walked inside, I was so happy to see the machines spaced a good distance apart, people following the COVID safety protocols, cleaning stations at every corner I turned, and very few people on the floor at the same time. It all felt right to me, so I restarted my membership immediately that same day. And it felt so good. 

My Sanctuary Over the Years

When I found one of my old favorite treadmills, I cried buckets for how liberating it was to have that feeling of “sanctuary” again. There I was, staring out of the same window, at those same trees outside with their branches bouncing around in the wind, looking excited, waving to me like my old friends! It’s an experience that had carried me through so many difficult and beautiful periods in my life. There I was in my happy space! It was as if the trees were whispering through the window, welcome home. Yep. I am just that sentimental about my workout routine!

“When I found one of my old favorite treadmills, I cried buckets for how liberating it was to have that feeling of ‘sanctuary’ again.”

Find What Feeds Your Spirit

My best advice for others working to stay healthy and survive these trying times is to find something that feeds your spirit! Do what you can to savor the here and now. Start with simple things, like finding an exercise routine that works for you, and stick with it. Consistency is what has really helped me over the years. It helps to start out small. The point is to exercise and to find a way to make it enjoyable and achievable. Set realistic goals that you know you can work toward and meet. Be patient with yourself. Find something you love about your routine and build on that. 

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