It was the second week in January of 2015. I was a handful of days into my first round of clean eating with the Whole30 program and not at all pleased to be at a boxing gym on the opposite side of town. But, thanks to some gentle encouragement from my roommate — and the promise of post-workout brunch — I found myself standing in front of the boxing bag, my hands wrapped in strange fabric as someone yelled for me to punch harder.
To say I was overwhelmed would be an understatement.
Don't get me wrong, I've always been an active person: I grew up running, playing tennis, and in the summertime, rocking water sports at my family's lake house. But after a knee injury took me out of the half-marathon game, my exercise regimen lost its luster. I tried yoga and it was fine, though I questioned if I ever found that "Zen" that was promised. I tried indoor cycling and wasn't a fan and found myself getting supremely bored in barre class.
But standing in front of that bag, trying to get the footwork and posture accurate — and um, failing miserably — I felt more energized than I had in a very long time. And possibly more importantly, I lost myself in the movement. It's a moment that my boxing coach and I joke about now — when he tried to come up and help me during that first class and I said, "I just want to work out!" After class, I apologized and he encouraged me to come back again.
And I did. And I have several times a month for more than a year. In fact, I took my first personal training session a few weeks ago, where I sparred directly with my trainer instead of a bag. This one-on-one attention helped each hit be more effective and precise while teaching me to manage my form. Though I'll never be (and would never want to be) on the Ronda Rousey level, becoming a "boxer" in my own right has transformed my life. Here's how:
It helps me get out of my own head.
Michael Tosto, my boxing coach and the owner of TITLE Boxing New York City, always found boxing to be the toughest workout he'd ever done, so when the chance to bring the TITLE franchise to Manhattan presented itself, he jumped on it. And what made the 60-minute class — which consists of a warmup, boxing rounds on a weighted bag, and an ab series — challenging wasn't just how much you test your body. But how much you release tension, too. "Anyone who has ever gotten upset and slammed a door or thrown something can understand the beauty of a boxing class," Tosto says. "The tension and stress relief of that is why we've evolved to act this way and use this for stress release. In class, you get to do that for 30 minutes straight! While all the members joke about 'having a tough day and want to punch the bag,' the truth is, you leave the boxing workout feeling great mentally and de-stressed."
Right around the time I started boxing, my dad's health took a turn for the worse. He's struggled with lots of ailments over the year, including surviving cancer, and while some workouts help me sweat it out, boxing is the only one that got me out of my own head. For that hour, I was able to focus on only one thing: the bag and my body. It has been empowering to know that if I have a tough day, a bad date, an unexpected expense, or an argument with a friend or family member, boxing is there to help me disconnect and let go.
It's the first time I've been able to set — and meet — fitness goals.
Until I started boxing, I was never a competitive person. I didn't care if I finished first or last, about beating my pace per minute, or about being able to lift more weight or hold a plank longer than I had before. I'm still not competitive against other people — most of the time anyway — but I've started to become competitive with someone more important: myself. I use each class as a way to gauge my progress. Tosto has noticed: "A year later, I point you out in class to first-timers as an example of how to throw a specific punch. You have a purpose and it shows," he said. "By setting specific goals for yourself in terms of endurance and effort, your development, progress, and drive is a great example for anyone to stick with it and develop themselves."
The beauty of being completely engulfed in a class is that I don't notice the person punching on the bag to my right. Or how long the girl next to me is holding her crunch. I don't compare myself because I'm not there to beat anyone's time but my own. Taking away the added pressure of trying to be someone else has been life-altering and has helped me in other aspects of my life — like being in a crowded bar and thinking someone else is more attractive. My mindset is more focused on what I can offer instead of wondering how I stack up against the masses. I'm just me, and that's more than enough.
I don't care about the weight I've lost, I care about what I've gained.
If you stick with a routine, you're bound to find results, but for Tosto, what's most inspiring about being an owner and instructor is how powerful those physical changes translate to an increased happiness: "I love hearing from a mom that she is now able to play with her son longer without getting tired. Or how one member was prediabetic and now is not," he said. "The confidence, inspiration, and empowerment these classes have given people is my favorite part of my job."
In addition to boxing, I've cleaned up my diet (while still indulging in the glass of vino . . . or three), and I've been able to lose 25 pounds in a year. But the funny thing to me is while it's nice to be a few sizes smaller and more comfortable in my own skin, I'm more proud of the muscles I've gained than the pounds I've lost. And the strength. My ability to move easier, faster, and without hesitation. There's some power that comes from knowing I could not only defend myself, but I could help someone in need, too. And I find power in the awesome evolution from not having any idea how to approach a workout to going in 100 percent, always ready to take on every cross, hook, uppercut, and jab.
And best of all, something refreshing about finally talking to myself with kindness and confidence. Instead of thinking I can't do it, I never question if I can. I then, quite simple do.
Lindsay Tigar is a writer and editor in New York. Her work has appeared on Bustle, YourTango, AskMen, The Huffington Post, and more. She's an aspiring boxer, wannabe yogi, and lover of cardio dance (though she has no rhythm). She loves traveling, handwritten cards, live music, and good vibes. She believes in a healthy balance of veggies and red wine and travels as much as she can. Follow her blog, her Instagram, and Twitter. Find a full collection of her writings here.