Saturday, February 15, 2020

CrossFit Jerusalem -- Alignment & Collision

I knew I would need a healthier outlet for Thursday night than our accustomed bourbon fest to get to L’Chaim (to life!) after visiting Yad Va’Shem (the Place of the Name), the Israel Holocaust museum. 

When leading groups on pilgrimage with another friend, a Modern Orthodox rabbi, we would enter into this tour-day with mindfulness ‘before,’ steadiness ‘during,’ then a debriefing time ‘after,’ over bourbon, until we could say ‘L’Chaim’ and mean it. Feel it. This time here in the Holy Land, this friend was not alongside us. I knew I could listen for what my body might need in the new ‘now’ I know, in my body. So I emailed a tour-company-friend, Dafna, to sort out logistics for making the 8 p.m. ‘class’ at CrossFit Jerusalem. Movement at the right intensity would probably release some of the energies within me after spending hours in the images and helplessness of the Holocaust.

You can take a cab, easy, Dafna had said. It’s only about a mile away.
Do you want me to go with you, B asked, genuinely (yet hopeful for a quiet night).
I would feel safer if you came with me, I said to him, smiling sheepishly.
We took a cab, he and I, to the Jerusalem YMCA. Bottom floor, -2 level, smallish box-space in the far righthand corner of the building. B said he would read in the coffee shop while I entered in. A gift for me, in a strange and beautiful place, CrossFit...Jerusalem.

I arrived early enough to sign any waiver-paperwork. The coach there, Asher, seemed uninterested in any paperwork, working instead with a client in a personal training session. This gave me ample time to orient myself to the gym, which eased my anxiety. Kilograms are more than pounds, after all. What dumbbells felt right for me tonight? (6 kg) What would a kettle-bell choice be? (8 kg or maybe 9) Wallball? (4 kg, as 6 felt much heavier than ‘normal’ for me). Eventually, there were 7-8 of us at the top of the hour, and only four assault-bikes. Darn, I’ll just have to row, I said to Asher with a smile.

The strength-skill session was on handstand-push-ups, which I do not have. I began with pike position, concentration on the negatives—slow movement down, keeping elbows close and watching for head-placement in front of my hands. Sets of 3-4 every 1.5 minutes or so… I’ve never done that before, so it was engaging for me. Then the workout itself—devil-presses (half a woman-maker, without plank-rows), DB front squats, then a cardio-sprint, rowing for me. 6 sets, with a 4 minute EMOM kind of rhythm—work through a round, rest the remainder of the time til 4 minute mark. Offered good intensity for me, but not too much. Felt good to be back in familiar movements…I returned to the hotel that night, feeling more myself than I had in days, smiling at the sensation of connection with unnamed and named CrossFitters--Asher, Rhonda, Dafna....

What is it about CrossFit that I knew would tend the post-memorial energies, that would seem so very fitting after a visit to Yad Va’Shem?  

Something in me knew it was what I would need to do. And almost not surprisingly, my rabbi friend had texted in that afternoon, about another matter. He did not know we were approaching the memorial. I smiled, seeing his name. Of course he would text, I had thought to myself. He then sent a text-smile when I invited his awareness of our impending journey and my plan for the evening. In a 'by the way' fashion, he observed a ‘fittedness’ in entering CrossFit Jerusalem after a visit to Yad Va’Shem. There’s a sermon in there for sure, he texted as we drew near. 

I could feel the collision of rightness within me immediately, instigated by his text. This sense of alignment is what pushed me over the obstacle of my anxiety about working out in a different gym, different country, different ‘math’ CrossFit (kg vs. lbs). There was something about entering into CrossFit there and that evening that felt a healthy response with constructive intention.

The near-immediate alignment of energies felt so familiar to me, as human bodies entered into the slated rhythms and workout to come. It began as we were tending to handstand pushups, where everyone found the scaled version s/he needed but did so together. The warm-up sets were at your own pace within a 7 minute period, the group staying close together. By the time we got to the workout, we were smiling and encouraging one another, getting ready to climb the mountain of intensity and cardio-sprints. Asher didn’t host a circle-time, really, so I didn’t know the names of anyone until afterward, when I asked one woman directly her name. But it almost didn’t matter. We were in the flow of the movement, aligning and attuning energies. It was the perfect place to BE, given the day I had, the overwhelm-fragmentation-sadness-horror of it all...Such gratitude welled up in me. Wordless, but smiling.

These days later, I’m not sure I have words for what this collision and alignment is for me. The words I do have certainly do not fit within the home CrossFit community I love and participate in, as these words arise from my profession, my own vocation of theological teaching/learning. Does CrossFit do (for me) what religious traditions seem to have forgotten how to do, or seem to have left long behind…? Self-integrating and self-accountable practices of wholeness, healing, fitness, health, community-building, challenge, encouragement, envisioning…?

What I do know, even if my professional language doesn’t quite ‘fit’: the body-centric, encouraging, health-focused community ethos of CrossFit IS one of the few antidotes to so many of our world’s ailments today: overwhelming isolation, projected body-shaming, fragmented relationships and divisive politics. 

I could not tell who in the small community that gathered last night was Jewish, Arab, or any secular in-betweens. The categories do not align at all. I could guess from the physical appearances that maybe there were 4 Jews, perhaps two Arabs, and then ‘others.’ To say it in a familiar way: in this CrossFit community, there was not Jew or Greek (or Arab), not male or female (nor in-between)….  

So much of what we seem to argue about--and inflict upon one another--didn’t matter in the end, at least for 60 minutes. Few of us could do the handstand push-ups. Each kept his/her own pace in the whole. All of us finished the workout together. Particularity. Unity. A good sweat was had by all. 

Perhaps it's time to relinquish traditional language(s), categories, and focus on health of body-mind-spirit, healing, fitness for a full life…to be discovered, as we sweat it out a bit, together.