Habits can be hard to break, but some habits were meant to be broken. Writers tend to be introverts, and as such, I’ve spent a lot of time tuning out the world. When I ran errands, I wore imaginary blinders as plot twists, character details, and chapter scenes played in my mind like a motion picture. For exercise, I chose to run solo outdoors while listening to music. I even trained for a marathon on my own.
However, last year I joined a gym. I needed a place to run indoors when the weather was bad, and I wanted to start cross training to strengthen other leg muscles and support my cranky knees. Twice a week, I diligently went to the gym and maintained my preference for solitary workouts.
For others, the gym was a social place. They chatted with friends and exercised in pairs or as part of larger groups.
I popped in earbuds, cranked up the volume, and got down to business. Outside chatter didn’t bother me as I was either bopping along to my Spotify playlist or engrossed in my book group’s next pick on Audible.
Post-workout, I wound down in the sauna. In the early months of my gym membership, I tended to go during off-peak hours. The workout room was never crowded and the sauna was usually empty.
More recently, my schedule placed me at the gym during peak hours—a time when the sauna had more traffic. It didn’t take long for a new insight to land in my towel-wrapped lap: My gym’s sauna was a combination of a therapist’s couch, an advice column, and getting together with your girlfriends to chat over cups of the local barista’s best shots.
During peak hours, conversation poured out in the steamy, wood-paneled room. To be honest, at first, I found other people chattering away in the sauna annoying.
Couldn’t a person sauna in peace?
However, after a time or two, I left my earbuds in my locker. Instead of sauna solitude, I listened, and eventually, I joined the conversation. All were welcome to chime in as the women were either strangers to each other or at most gym acquaintances. Sauna topics have been wide-ranging—personal, educational, and downright funny. In a matter of a few weeks, we discussed grief, death, diet and exercise tips, and menopause symptoms. Complaining about hot flashes while sitting in a sauna was a cathartic irony and one every sweat-drenched woman in the small room understood.
One day there was a deep discussion regarding one woman’s career choices. She used the rest of us as a sounding board as she’d come to an occupational crossroads. We’ve talked about caring for aging parents, single women hitting on married men, and grief after losing a loved one. I’d lost my father over the past year and that particular sauna session was like group therapy for me. I wasn’t alone in my feelings or my pain.
My last few sauna visits, I perspired a few minutes longer than I’d planned because I didn’t want to leave the conversation.
Since engaging in these conversations, I’ve also noticed a change while out running errands. I’ve become more talkative, more engaged with those around me and the world. On a recent trip to New York City and after gabbing with a salesperson at a cosmetics store, I told my friend, “I’m a chatty tourist now.”
“It’s not a bad thing,” she said.
“No, it really isn’t.” I smiled, pleased to have broken my old habit. And as for those imaginary blinders, they’re tucked away on the top shelf of my imaginary closet while I get to know the world.