4 reasons it hurts to sit down and other ways to get fit in Shanghai

Picture this: you’re in a dimly-lit room and German techno is thumping through the speakers. There is a woman in spandex in front of you and she’s illuminated by a lone floodlight (eerie and unnecessarily dramatic). Her shadow is almost demonic and she is yelling through a microphone. You’re sweating, feeling slightly queasy (shouldn’t have eaten street food for lunch!). The music gets louder while you focus on a TV playing hyper-looped time-lapse videos of Japanese roller coasters (you know I’m not exactly sure whyJapan, but it’s just a hunch). Everything hurts. The room is so dark (why is it dark? to add to the intensity? the aura? or just to hide the dust?) and your palms slip from the sweat.

Sound like purgatory? Nope. Just my first spinning class.

Trying to stay in a (presumably healthy) shape while in Shanghai has been infuriating. And now that short-shorts weather is imminent, I’ve actually been putting in effort. But it’s also been a matter of maintaining a routine. Sure, spontaneity is awesome, but a sense of a routine is what keeps me sane when I am staring blankly at a mySQL Terminal window at 2am because none of my databases are loading. Work has been a little stressful lately and the exercise bikes help.

The problem with working out in Shanghai is, when I go to a gym, my goal is to look ready for battle. I’m groggy, a little sweaty, and wearing the workout clothes I’ve worn all week, which by this point smell pretty rank. I don’t want to see girls in full-on contoured make-up (seriously, who wears fake lashes to the gym??) while my bangs cling to my forehead and I am sweating through my leggings, having not shaved my legs in days.

I miss the sense of community I had back home – whether it was when I was (a little too) seriously into CrossFit (man, that was a weird period in my life), or at The Breathing Room. And I think, despite the fact that I’ve been walking bow-legged all week (that bike seat is quite uncomfortable), I’m rediscovering that sense of community in Shanghai. After just a week, the gym owner already greets me by my name and has allowed me to keep coming although I’ve forgotten to pay for the last two classes (to be fair, I never carry cash on me and I found out the hard way that they didn’t take cards).

Pictured above: short-shorts weather
Pictured above: short-shorts weather


I’ve probably mentioned (a few too many times) that I rarely have patience for running. I still do it, because running is something that you do, and because I’ve been a runner since I was 13, but at the same time, running in Shanghai is incredibly dangerous. The lack of pedestrians’ spatial awareness, coupled with cars that lack awareness of people like me, who run red lights, make navigating the streets quite hard. This week though, I actually haven’t been able to jog at all. I took a pretty rough tumble coming out of the Shaanxi Nan Lu subway stop on my way from work, splaying across the ground as the hot mug of red bean milk I had been drinking dramatically splashed the passersby with scalding, sweet milk (okay, it wasn’t actually dramatic). As a result, I now have two massive bruises on both of my knees,  already weakened from crushing my kneecap across a speed bump jogging in my old apartment complex in July, and aggravating the MCL tear from two years ago (that I got biking in a snowstorm (in retrospect, not the smartest idea) and gliding straight into the Cross Campus gates). So yes, Shanghai is not the ideal place for joggers.

Weekends like that are why I need to exercise
Weekends like that are why I need to exercise

Iyengar Yoga

Yoga was once such a big part of my life. Living in New Haven, I’ve written about my experiences in The Breathing Room and how it helped me come to terms with a lot of things about myself. Not being able to find a studio that I have a sense of belonging to in Shanghai has left me a little displaced. I miss coming into the rooms on the weekends (since I had a key to the Breathing Room) to light incense, clean the altars, or simply talk to Stacy about ayurvedic cures for ear infections or her numerous acupuncture sessions. Flexibility is one of my greatest assets (because, well, it’s definitely not strength). Although my yoga teacher in Shanghai still tells me to adjust my poses because my back is too flexible, I feel like at the end of the day, it’s not about whether I can get both of my legs over my head without popping out a hip. It’s about alignment. It’s about doing each pose with a sense of purpose.

Pilates and other ‘questionable’ dance classes.

I’m going to leave this section blank. My legs hurt a lot and I need to go to bed. I’ve been persuaded to do a lot of weird things in Shanghai and this week’s exercise class may make the Top 5.

I’m drawing my line at spinning.

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