After I quit as a lawyer, I worked as a receptionist at a small Amsterdam gym (for context: everything in Amsterdam is small, especially compared to California). It was awesome: the pay was low but it got me socializing, teaching yoga, and hanging with rad, inspiring colleagues, some of whom I’m still mates with today. 

Then, in the middle of a Dutch winter, I moved to Morocco and suddenly my workouts were surfing, barefoot running on the beach, walks on the Agadir waterfront, hikes into the hills behind Tamraght. My activities went outdoors, and my heart too. If you can get a sweat and a stretch in the sunshine, why the heck would you heave weights around in a small, stuffy, enclosed space?

Cut to 5 years later and I suddenly find myself convalescing from ACL surgery. Which, much to my hippy chagrin, means training in a gym again.

Gyms are weird places. There are a lot of people in minimal clothing, the music is loud, you almost feel like you’re at a nightclub. You’re all by yourself but everyone is there for the same purpose. This invokes some kind of unspoken respect and comradery, perhaps even understanding. It’s a nice feeling.

I’ve been training for the last fortnight at 24 Hour Fitness in Orange, which is MASSIVE. But that’s where the differences between this and my little Amsterdam gym end. It smells the same, the patrons are an American version of the same, and the music is literally, exactly, THE SAME.

And to my complete surprise – and mild embarrassment – I’m actually enjoying being back in the gym. There is a certain structure that comes from a workout; the focus on your muscular activity, the little breaks in between sets, the nonchalant checking out of other patrons without EVER MAKING EYE CONTACT. A little sweat, grunt, stretch, and you’re done. Satisfied. It gives a sense of control when life is by definition an uncontrollable beast.

It also gives a rhythm to my day, and my week, that I’d long forgotten. It reminds me how structure, even in its smelliest, vainest form, can help forge a sense of self, achievement, and power. And sometimes that can be just what the surgeon ordered.