Zumba class and leopard prints

gym memberships

About seven months ago I started going to the gym. It wasn’t an easy decision for me for many different reasons.

Over the last 15 years I have signed up for a gym membership many times but never - until now -  have I been able to go to the gym on a regular basis for this long.

Here is a long list of why's: 

  • I hated the feeling of pressure I put on myself thinking that I HAD to go since I was paying a good amount of money every month.
  • I never really knew what machines to use and how to use them properly, and I was too self-conscious about my uncoordinated movements in aerobic classes.
  • I’m so incredibly talented in not getting the steps right that I can even make the instructor get out of rhythm.
  • In addition to all that, I've always disliked the attention I thought I got for being a foreign woman in a Japanese gym, especially in the locker room and shower area, where I felt body-screened by a dozen terminators, and judged for my lady garden, which was –compared to their jungles - a burned down forest.

But enough of that!


this year though ….

At the beginning of this year I told my husband that I often feel like an old horse when I use stairs at stations, that I’m worried about my weight, and that I didn't want to feel unfit for the rest of my life. I knew that I needed a drastic change – not just for the sake of losing weight but mostly to feel fit and healthy. My husband advised me to join the gym but to make sure to work with a trainer this time in order to achieve my goals. And that’s what I did.

The sport club I go to reminds me of a retirement home – most members are close to 60 or older and have been going there for 20 to 30 years! To a lot of them the place is like their second home, where they spend their mornings and afternoons at, socialize with friends, and make sure their bodies and minds don’t get rusty.

I bow down to their commitment and admire how fit and limber they are. Some of them can throw their legs up in the air as if they are auditioning for A Chorus Line


today's topic 

I came from far afield. What I actually wanted to write about today is how I think that in a lot of cases we don’t really have much influence on what people choose to think about us.

Sometimes I wonder whether it is simply a question of circumstances and luck, or bad luck if you will. 


fancy lions

Although I didn’t plan on making friends at the gym (all I really want is do my thing and leave the place), I noticed that it would be difficult to warm up with the elderly ladies there. I had the impressions that they had already marked me down as an intruder.

In my first few weeks they made sure I knew where my place was in the gym – there were certain lockers that were not to be used, certain spots in Zumba class not to be taken, and I had to be extra polite in order to not spoil it for me.

Please imagine two dozen very rich elderly ladies in hipster sportswear and full make up and then combine that with an attitude of inmates from Orange is the New Black and you might guess why I was a little anxious about pissing anyone off there.

One could tell even from afar which two women set the tone in that gym.

This went on for a couple of months. During that time I made sure to keep my head down, be polite but reserved.


one day,

out of the blue,

without any warning,

one of the two dominant ladies started talking to me in Zumba class. In fact, she offered me her glorious spot, so I could enjoy the class more.

I admit that due to my pessimistic nature my first reaction was to suspect some kind of trap and it took me a few seconds to accept her friendly gesture.

It would have been a deadly mistake not to take her offer in that moment and I wasn’t a fool to reject it.

From that day on my popularity increased steadily and others felt brave enough to step forward and greet me, ask me where I’m from and test how much Japanese I understood.

Overall though, my new status at the gym makes me feel like I’m a toy for a pack of lions that has just eaten a big meal.

You might think I’m exaggerating but fact is that Osaka obachans (middle-aged women) are known for their sharp tongue and elbows when things are on sale. Obachans are also famous for wearing leopard prints. That's surely no coincidence. 

Group Obachaan

Group Obachaan

Please don't get me wrong! I do enjoy their enthusiastic greetings although they sometimes make me jump when I’m on the treadmill; to get me going I usually listen to nu-metal like music when I’m on the machine and one day I almost tripped and fell when one of them suddenly tapped me on the arm to say goodbye and wish me a nice day.

Again, I DO find them mostly very sweet and caring but since I don’t know what changed their attitude towards me, I take this whole episode with a pinch of salt.

Although their shy approaches make me smile I always wonder in the back of my mind what the change of heart was that these ladies decided to like me.

When and why did they think I was worth talking to and being welcomed into their exclusive group? More importantly, when and why will they decide that it’s time to dislike me?


no influence

What’s fascinating in a scary way to me is the thought that I have no influence on what people think about me. To a certain degree it seems to be a number of coincidences colliding with each other that result in decisions whether we like someone or not.

Maybe that lady who talked to me in Zumba class had a fabulous morning on that day, felt like sharing her good mood in that particular moment, and the other important lady had a glimpse of our friendly exchange, was also in a delighted stage in class and took a quick note in her mind that I was accessible and that’s how it all started. If just one part of these steps had gone differently - let’s say the second lady was annoyed by the fact the other lady started bonding with me – my gym life now might be completely different.

I actually thought the same when I watched Tom Hank’s new movie Sully the other day. Although the overall topic of the film is different, halfway through it I thought that just as quickly as he was announced a hero by reporters, the media could have turned things around very quickly again.


leaf in the wind … or a strong tree

I believe that this episode in my life shows me that the more I try to please people and want them to like me, the more I’ll be like a leaf in the wind, a house in the eye of a tornado, or a cup in someone’s tea set they drink out of whenever they want to.

There is no guarantee for not being labeled either a hero or a loser or anything in between by people in our society. The only way to protect yourself and is by not caring what others think of you. 

I think that the more true to yourself you are, the more authentic you come across, the more you are like a strong tree with deep roots that can overcome any storm in life.

Isn’t it almost a relieve to know that no matter what you do you will not really have any influence on what people want to think of you? At least then you don’t need to try so hard to get them to like you.

Funny enough, often people seem to like you because you are NOT trying so hard.

Although I'm not saying to be mean back to anyone (on the contrary) I can't help but think of Meg Ryan, alias Kate, in French Kiss when she says in her cute way:

The key to French waiters: If you're nice to them, they treat you like shit. Treat them like shit, they love you.
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Communication skills, Part I

photo exchange

In one of my posts I wrote about how I signed up for gym membership. It’s been four months now and finally I’m starting to see small results – I’ve been building lean muscles and have lost a little weight around my waist, arms and also my legs.

In addition to my regular workout I started a photo exchange with a new friend, who is keen on losing all the kilos she put on over the winter months.

We agreed on taking pictures of everything we eat and drink (if it’s something else than water, tea or coffee), especially when we sin by eating some kind of junk food or by eating late.

This back and forth reporting over the last two months was a genius idea of the friend, as it helped me become aware of WHAT and HOW MUCH I eat. Thanks to our honest reports I detected that I had something sweet almost everyday, that my portions were too big and that I ate too late. For the first time in 20 years or more I became aware of all my bad eating habits.


a text message

Not long ago that friend texted me that she had lost weight and that she is more and more determined to get rid of the kilos.

At the time I still didn’t notice any changes in my body. I would have guessed that at that point some kind of frustration would have kicked in, as in “Why am I not losing weight?”

To my own surprise though I had no thought like that at all. Instead I fully understood - also for the first time in my life – that every body (see what I did there) is different and reacts differently to sports and diet.

I wanted to share these new and exciting thoughts with the friend so I texted her back and saying something like “our cases are different but I love the fact that we are doing this together”. I explained about how long I have not been really kind to my body and how much body fat I need to get rid of in order to feel healthy again. I finished with thanking her for her support.


the next day

Something about my message must have triggered something in the friend as the next morning – after a lot of thinking – she texted me explaining that something was bothering her about my earlier comment.

She thought that what I wrote made her feel like she is putting pressure on me and that it sounds as if I’m trying to justify something by writing that our cases are different. The rest of the text was about why we started the photo exchange in the first place and that she doesn’t expect me to copy her diet style.


I was quite taken back by the serious tone of the message although the friend explained she just wanted to clarify things. She had also added some smileys here and there just to be sure I wouldn’t feel upset.


Nevertheless, the words I read somehow hurt me. More than that, I was so surprised – almost shocked – about how perceptions can cause huge misunderstandings and result in a crack in a friendship that I had to sit down; my heart was beating so fast and I started to hear the sound of a stormy ocean in my ears.


words and their consequences 

Maybe you would have reacted differently. Maybe you would have read it and shrugged it off. Maybe you would have smirked about the smileys and sent her a light funny text back.


I, on the other hand, am quite sensitive and feel like a burned child in these matters. I’ve had quite a number of situations in my life where one conversation affected a relationship to such a degree that it came to an end – either right away or in small waves of drifting away.


Words can hurt. Words have consequences.


I’ve learned that lesson a long time ago through one of my dear friends but come to think of it I’ve never really lived by she taught me.


I- and you-messages

As I was sitting on my bed and was thinking about all the different relationships in my life (with my husband, my mother, my father, my aunt, my co-workers etc.) and how often I have hurt with words, I started to grasp the full meaning of it.


First of all it’s usually HOW we say something that can change everything.


You might have heard of I-messages and You-messages.

In You messages like “You make me so angry because you forgot to give me a ride home” we blame the other person for the situation and judge them. Often the other person will feel defensive and the situation gets worse.


I-messages on the other hand avoid blaming and judging. The above example could be put like this instead: “I feel angry when I am expecting a ride home and I’m forgotten”.


Just by changing the way you say something you are able to get your message across respectfully. Isn’t that a wonderful skill to work on?


don't say anything at all

Then, secondly, I’m wondering if in some cases not saying anything at all is the wiser choice.


I understand that the friend had the urge to clarify things. I know because I have given in to that urge many times myself.

She wanted to say what was on her mind and what bothered her in order to be able to move on. Once she sent off the text she probably felt “refreshed”.

The ball was in my court.


It’s just that I didn’t know that a ball was coming my way in the first place.


Since everything she thought was going on for me was not the case at all I was pretty irritated. I couldn’t help but think of how everything I’d write from now could be misinterpreted again.

Due to all my past experiences I felt stigmatized and suddenly my mind was in Law & Order-Land in the sense of "anything I say and do can and will be used against me".

That’s what I mean with consequences. Though it all starts with the intention of clarifying things you might end up saying things that can’t be taken back.

Once said the other person will start tiptoeing around you because they don’t want to cause a similar situation.

The trouble is though, the harder the person tries not to say the “wrong” thing, the less relaxing the person becomes and that’s when the relationship starts to become “mendokusai” - tiresome - as Japanese people say.

That’s when things eventually fall apart.


These things can happen overnight, or in the blink of a moment. One second everything is lalala and in the next second you notice a shift in moods.

Sometimes you double check if everything is okay and you will hear “Yes, yes! Everything is fine!” but you can sense like an animal that something is off.


I’ve always been the advocate of speaking one’s mind, clarifying things by asking what’s going on or by laying out one’s own feelings about something.


Now, I’m not so sure anymore.


I admire my husband for knowing most of the time when to leave things unmentioned.

I guess he is good at going through all possible scenarios for how the other person might react once HIS words and thoughts are out. He then chooses what scenario he and the other person can live best with and to which degree it has an impact on both their lives.

When it comes to business, timing is also something he takes into consideration. But that’s another topic.

I wished I could take a page from his book.


the ultimate truth though 

I’m wondering though whether the ultimate truth is that no matter how hard I try to work on my communication skills I’ll always attract a situation like the one described at the beginning.

I’ll always subconsciously invite someone into my life, who will confront me with a similar issue.

My vague guess is that it has to do with me.

In order to work on myself the universe is probably sending me these “messengers” so I start thinking about changing my ways and become a better version of myself.


the best thing to do

Am I not clear enough? Not even when I think that I’m being clear?

Am I sending out mixed messages? And if so, why? How?


If the universe was trying to teach me a lesson, what lesson would that be?


The morning I received the text for the rest of the day I had moments of self-blame thinking that I must be so unclear in my actions that I pull misunderstandings towards me on a regular basis.

I was beating myself up for being overly sensitive, even “mendokusai” for telling the friend that I felt a bit hurt and irritated by her message.

I did what I often do – wondering off with my thoughts and trying to understand the mind of the other person rather then staying in my mind and minding my own business.


In the end I came to the conclusion that this episode in my life might have occurred in order for me to accept that I AM who I AM, namely someone sensitive.

And that I have to stand by my opinion and my original first reaction and gut feeling – I shouldn’t feel guilty for being sensitive and telling the friend that I felt hurt by her comments.  


I’ll never be able to find the right communication skills to please everyone around me and avoid any kind of misunderstandings. That’s just not going to happen and I need to accept that.


The only thing I CAN do is to be true to myself, to listen up to what feelings are going on in me and become aware of them.

That’s when I become clear to myself and only then will I be clear for people around me.

That surely won’t guarantee a misunderstanding-free life but I’m pretty sure that it will reduce stressful thoughts in my mind.  



If you are interested in learning more about I- and You-messages, check out this page