The Grid of Moaning Mornings (II)

Grid the Evil, Grid the Beautiful: How To Feel Whole in 30 Minutes (Image: Virgin Active)

For the first part of this essay, visit The Grid of Moaning Mornings (I) 

Station #2
Next is my favorite, a shoulder-raise exercise, alternating with a left-right motion in the arms, what Brindha calls ice-skating, though I like to think it’s more dance than ice-skating, more sensual than athletic. The whole movement encourages a kind of showiness and incites you to flirt with some imaginary mirror or an invisible roving camera right ahead.

If bird-dog makes you feel awkward and clumsy, here’s an exercise that makes you feel sexy, makes you want to just let it all hang out, as if Humphrey Bogart were whispering to you, except this time, he wasn’t just saying, Here’s looking at you, kid! He’d toss in one other sweet nothing: Dance like nobody’s watching.

My gray-shirt partner picks up the Viper, a hollow tube weighing all of 6 kg that looks more like some Amazonian percussion instrument than a gym equipment. I go for the grip ball, light gray in hue with a big, bold “6” in a meek yellow marked out on one side of its girth—it’s the same weight as the Viper, but seemingly less lethal by virtue of its compact size.

Heave the ball up in line with the shoulders, then let it fall to the left as your right leg swishes left in tandem behind the left leg, so that at this freeze-frame moment at the bottom of that line of action, you do look like an ice-skater, or perhaps a bowler from the waist down.

I dream, though, of being a Bharatanatyam dancer with eyes that dart left and right with unsaid secrets, though mine, by the time I arrive at my third rep, are screaming pain and bananas—not helped at all that my arms start to shiver at each arduous upward lift. 

Gray Guy didn’t offer to switch his Viper with my grip ball, so I took the initiative to do so at the fourth and final rep. And what’s my verdict? The Viper is by far the better choice because the grooves into which you slip your fingers give you a perfect, more natural shoulder-width grip, whereas the ball forces your shoulders to cave inward, taxing the deltoids unnecessarily—those two sheets of muscles around the shoulder joints that get creepy on the neck when I abuse them too much.

Brindha, however, prefers the ball. Different tools for different folks, I suppose. But if you wanted some advice right here at Station #2, I’d say: Lingam over the ball!

In-Between Warm-Ups
Now’s the time to talk about the in-betweens, the bits that you squat and kick into as you cross the River of Grid from one station to the next. They don’t look like much, but Much has a way of sitting squatly over you as you try to do a high-kick right, then a high-kick left, interspersed by squats, which feel ten times lovelier than those damn kicks because the hamstrings, tight like an uptight bitch, make the bouncing up and down feel like a larger, uglier manifestation of a pesky hiccup.

And you know how stupid you always look with those abrupt intakes of hiccup air? Well, Stupid descended on my sorry body, all heavy and toady. Each time my leg shot out, I painted a portrait with a crook at the knee joint, never an elegant burst of a straight line like Brindha’s.

But bring on those Plank Jacks, baby! They feed the self-confidence, perhaps vanity too, and best of all, they sound like wholesome crunchy snacks. 

Station #3
We move on to the TRX, which, until a year or so ago, was some new, foreign thing to me. I still don’t know what it stands for, though it looks like a stock symbol with some fine growth potential. I really didn’t enjoy this Y-Raise Lunge station, named for the Y-shape you make with your arms as you lunge forward, left-knee, right knee, with your hands grabbing the TRX grips from above.

My yoga teachers would have fretted over the way I was executing the lunge—my knee had poked forward way past the ankle, but with each adjustment as I shimmied my foot forward a little here, a little there, I still felt weird. It was as if the TRX were yanking me away from a center line and a point of equilibrium.

When perfection, or something close to it never ever arrives, I usually just go “Shoot!” or “Ho hum!”—as we all should, I guess—and just move on and have a jolly.

Station #4
We meet with balls again, this time, Kettlebells—new word, new thing, though when I first heard Brindha say it, I swear, I had scribbled “Kettle balls” on my notes. I must consider writing down a brand new goal to be a gym geek because these technical things are turning me on, this lousy, clueless gym virgin!

Remember that instruction-overload I was suffering at the beginning of class? Well, the noise was the worst here. First, you work on a circle, then a figure eight this way and that, in an exercise called “Hello Around the World.” Correction: “Halo,” not “Hello.” Brindha’s pronunciation can get quite endearing, one could write puns from all the misheard words.


So yes, we execute a halo around the hip, slipping the ball from one hand to the other as we circle the ball a full circle, before we switch grip again, this time, between the thighs to make a figure eight as we dangerously skirt the groin.

But thankfully, I’m a miss and not a mister, though this exercise is not suited to missies like me because of my stupidly long torso. I resort to hunching a little just so I could send the ball well clear under, which got Brindha coming over with caring eyes and careful advice.

“Don’t hunch!” she says, “keep the lower back straight.”

Later, I would learn, in a post-class chit-chat with her, that there were two different balls, a 6-kg one and an 8-kg one. Guess who got the heavier one with the luckier number?

Station #5
I’m embarrassed to report that, after four stations, the sweat never really came until this station where the Bosu ball greeted me. Something of a gym ball lopped off at the top with a round platter, if you will, stuck to its flat side, the Bosu is the ultimate test in stability and mobility—the two core elements that Grid Active is after.

I imagine that if “Bosu” were a Japanese word, it would translate into “boss”—a term fitting for this ball contraption because it naturally wants to boss you around left and right as you press your hands down on it while you’re working your planks, with a leftward swish of the right leg under the left, and an opposite motion on the left leg. The ball beneath just wants to tip you sideways like a ship in troubled waters.

Hello, jiggly planks! Wobbly, jiggly, Jell-O planks!

So I turn on all my squeezing buttons, fire up the rectus abdominis, switch on the moola bandha, squeeze those secret places. The sweat goes drip, drip, drip from the tip of the nose, the forehead, dripping on the words “”—staring at me in an upside down state. It drove me to madness that I had to squander my second 10-second breather to turn the ball a 180 degrees to set the words right.

All was good again, the Jell-O disappeared, even as I pressed my palms down on the center of that platter and not the outer grips on the rim. I could have gone for the Big Easy, the outer grips in this case, but somehow the boss had a hold on me.

Station #6
Ache, heat, sweat, all seem to have come together now with a thirst for not so much water, but time to fly, off and away! I dream of bullseye images here at this station and a fancy French waiter at a Parisian bistro with his tray, gliding from one table to another.

Here at the finale, we’re supposed to plant the balls of our feet on the freeFORM, a frisbee-like contraption with castors, while our palms press down on a circular foam pad emblazoned with concentric circles that make it feel like a dartboard.

With OCD running high and hot, as rough and wild as the aches, I stick a towel over my dartboard as a shelter from all that sweat. I noticed Gray Guy had placed his knees on the rolling frisbee instead of his toes, tempting me to wilt and cheat a little, but I didn’t. I kept up with the burn, the fire, the soul-nourishing furnace.

The only thing that I had quite forgotten was that the crunches weren’t merely a straight out-and-back-in movement of the legs. Brindha wanted out-and-in, and yet another around-the-world where the toes on the wheeled frisbee fashioned a circular doodle behind you, starting at Ground Zero in a crunched state, and then extending out and around back to Ground Zero.

I didn’t do it, but I didn’t chicken out either.

The days of this week have ticked with the pleasures of pain, each day like six little squares that mirror that beautiful, evil grid, moaning ooh and ah. I’m ready for some more—on the harm, the legs, thighs, and all.

For the first part of our moaning adventures, visit:
The Grid of Moaning Mornings (I) 

You may also enjoy:
An Active Virgin, on a Quest for the Body Beautiful

The Grid of Moaning Mornings (I)

6 Moves, 30 Minutes, 500 Calories (Image: Virgin Active)

GOOD moaning!

No, that’s not a typo. That’s me sending myself to a Sunday morning gym class with a grim and dour name: GRID. It’s my punishment for having doodled at the starting block from home. After some hundred paces out the door, I realized I had forgotten my scrunchie, oh, and my water bottle too!

The stupid backtrack would cost me a precious seven minutes, translating into a missed train and a missed yoga class at 9.15AM—some fancy, new-age fitness thing called BROGA with a coy insignia ® kissing its name. It’s “not just yoga,” according to the program notes, nor is it “simply group functional fitness.” It certainly isn’t some Brokeback Mountain-styled fitness yee-hah because it says brightly in the last line: “Women are welcome!”

For being late, my curiosity shall have to suffer, to stay the wait until my next brush with BROGA, when punctuality and availability come together like two star-crossed lovers. But luck was kind to curiosity this moody, cloudy Sunday morning, and curiosity got piqued in a whole new way. The 10AM line-up screamed at me in all its four-letter goodness: G-R-I-D—Grid Active, to be exact, as opposed to Grid Fit or Grid Lean, which, I’m guessing, are its evil siblings that eat you up in different ways respectively. 

Roughly, as I had seen it before, while traipsing around the workout area to grab a cold towel or a cold slosh of water by the cooler, Grid is something like an obstacle race across six stations, demarcated by grids on the workout floor, three by three, labeled neatly at the bottom corner of each grid with laminated sheets bearing los numéros uno to seis.

But a detached outsider always takes with her a myopic view of the world, one so lightweight that it only paints less than half of the picture. What is reality, then, but the immersion of not just feet in cold waters, but heart and mind, and in this case, thighs, glutes, traps, biceps as well, and then some.

I had taken with me, to my grand surprise, all of me to this class which I had thought was a 45-minute endeavor, only to be thankful that as the time elapsed, everything wrapped up at the 30th minute. What a fucking, screaming 500-calorie-burning dynamite!

That was exactly what the class had demanded: all of me, all of my senses, my squeezing prowess, my discipline receptors, the rolling cinema in the eyes, even my OCD. Endorphins, dopamine, all those pain and delight fluids came out to play, and everything was lit up in high intensity—neon without the lights, moans without the sighs, climax without the orgasm.

At warm-up time, my black tank-top was hiding under a magenta Virgin shirt. The girl was cold, as she always is. Poor circulation, liver a little sluggish, heart never warmed enough, veins never struck by lightning. The music comes on, and we work at those stretches, some squats, ankle lifts, forgettable and predictable enough, in a monkey-see-monkey-do fashion.

Our Grid trainer, Brindha, a Tamil Nadu native, a bright-eyed girl, who comes across more as a Bharatanatyam dancer or a Mohiniyattam instructor, urges us on in a silky, wispy voice, too sweet to be true for a Grid chick, whose goal is to whip your booty and haul you through the whole nine yards with treachery and fire. But never mind, she’s holding fort, and doing it pretty admirably.

She breezes through the task at each station, swift and light-footed, demonstrating what she expects of us, with an irrepressible smile and mindful tips (don’t hunch, keep the core in, those kinds of things), but that’s all too much to take in at a go, especially when there are six different stations with specific dos and don’ts at each.

My mind suffers a momentary lapse of claustrophobia and a terrible noise overload, then I say, Chill it, Viv. Fuck it, and just have fun! But before I could even finish saying “fun,” Brindha gives us the signal to start, and I get down and dirty at Station #1 with this guy in gray, my default partner, who had parked himself strategically there at warm-up time, just like me.

It was how I’d like to have started, and nowhere else, knowing for sure I would have been twisted in the mind if my thirty minutes had been spent starting at #3 and finishing at #2, or worse, starting at #6 and finishing at #5. As it turns out, it also happens to be the smartest way to start because Station #1 is the easiest.

Station #1
Bird-Dog, a yoga-inspired asana, says hello here. Brindha calls it the quadruped harm-leg raise (once again, that’s not a typo, but how she pronounces “arm,” just like how a French would, to my great amusement). The only difference with Grid’s bird-dog is that it’s rep-driven, unlike the longer breath-led holds in yoga.

Left hand grabs right ankle from behind while you’re on all fours. Repeat, until you’ve exhausted 30 seconds, sometimes feeling like you’re going to tip over sideways. Then you get rewarded with a 10-second break before you switch sides. That makes up a single paired sequence, and our job was to complete two sets of it, which works out to a total of two minutes of work and 30 seconds of catch-your-breath. Simple enough—an easy, steady rhythm to observe here at this station, and the next, unto eternity.

I keep at my bird and dog, casting my drishti, my focused gaze, on the words right below my eyes, white bold words splashed right across the top of the mat:

Solid Focus
Strength & Conditioning

Thirty seconds per rep, from the perspective of that myopic, distant observer, is surely a piece of cake, but when you’re at the floor as the Grid progresses, the second feels more like a metric unit in the league of an hour. If love could be experienced this way, where a second is, in reality, a dense and charged love-swooned hour, lovers, I swear, wouldn’t whine or pine so much.

But the beginnings of swoons would come in a different way—thanks to a voice, that of Ed Sheeran’s, husky, full of heat, and nearly groping: I’m in love with the shape of you … I’m in love with your body. As a premonition of all the stings that would devour my muscles, I wasn’t registering so much the word love, but the shape of you, and yes, your body.

I’m only at Station Numero Uno, but already, I’m totally impressed. What a fine trainer we’ve got, one with a keen sense of the human body, and an even keener sense of the human mind!

The rest of the essay continues here:
The Grid of Moaning Mornings (II)

You may also enjoy:
An Active Virgin, on a Quest for the Body Beautiful

An Active Virgin, on a Quest for the Body Beautiful


I dream, at some point, when the grays in the hair appear in greater abandon and the flabby bits around the middle turn more audacious, I would write something in the style of Nora Ephron’s I Remember Nothing. But since Monday this week, having been reminded by my friend who’s something of a seer and healer, that we’ve got only 97 days left to the year, I figured I better be Nora Ephron today, rather than years hence. Going for Mini Nora with a mini reflection is nobler than hanging out till the full-fledged Nora comes to fruition—that grand collection of wise essays.

Besides, the flabby bits have already come anyway. I’m not particularly bothered by the waisted jiggles, still bashful in their youthfulness and hence quite endearing. What bugs me, though, with a growing, nagging self-consciousness, is that chunk of flesh just behind the armpits in the upper reaches of the latissimus dorsi. I first discovered it two to three weeks ago in the fitting room of my favorite Lululemon boutique at Ngee Ann City when I slipped into a Size 4 top. Just a tad too tight, it seemed to tease the loose, limp bit of flesh up and over the the seams around the arm hole.

Up and Over! No, this wasn’t the name of some uplifting song, alas!

I’m always up for going up and over life’s yucky, thorny obstacles in almost everything I do, but when it comes to my lats, no thank you! I sought advice the moment I stepped out of the fitting room. The girl helping me with the check-out wasn’t so sure what would give a nice zap and zing to those wingèd muscles fanning out from the shoulder blades, so she turned to her colleague up on a ladder, a nubile, tight-in-the-flesh chick busy chalking some design on the upper reaches of a pillar by the store-front.

Pull-ups, she suggested, looking down at me, as I gazed up at a sportive figure in a tank top and running shorts, arms and legs showing off the fine glow of exercise and diligent diet, plus a nice tan. Oh, there’s another, she continued, some plank-like maneuver—here, she stepped off the ladder to demonstrate, hands pressed against the check-out counter with her torso leaning in, her legs ramrod straight, and her elbows hugging in tightly. And don’t forget the rowing machine, she said with a reassuring smile.

So, yes, I’ve been at it, a measly three times at the gym’s sleek, sexy rowing machine since my sad “up and over” discovery. But I’m hard on myself. I’ve actually accomplished sips of other things: three reformer sessions, a couple of aerial, fly-in-the-air yoga classes, and I’ve also reunited with the girlie step machine and the burly treadmill after a hiatus of close to a decade—all this in just over a month since I joined Sir Richard Branson’s cool, kickass, gorgeous gym, Virgin Active, at Holland Village. 

Spurred by his mantra to “Screw it, let’s do it” emblazoned in the workout studio called High Energy, those calorie counts aren’t Greek anymore. I’m getting them all back again—the amount of work I need to put in to hit certain magic milestones: the 200-calorie burn, 300, 400, just like watching the stock indices, which is something I should tiptoe into again after much denial and procrastination, the same two evils that have plagued my exercise regime, punished now by my limp lats. 

All is good again in the world after eight rotten months of patchy exercise, plenty of sedentary days, and a brief fling with a 10-class membership at a neighborhood yoga studio, whose classes were good enough to bore me to the point I had to flog and force myself to finish the 10 classes plus a complimentary one in three months.

The sore bum, prouder and tighter than it was a month ago, give a nice thwack today, when you slap it. Vanity is what all girls, most at least, are after, but I fear for my health, having had one, two health scares in my lifetime—one that has seen four cycles of the proud, strutting rooster.

Like my rooster zodiac, I, too, am strutting about these days, proud of that ache and burn in the buns, happy that my sleep has been deep and delicious, and the digestive organs performing with greater vigor. If there’s something pleasant to add to a dinner conversation with the family, where I’m normally quiet, offering only the most perfunctory of contributions, this would be the piece of bright news—akin to telling the world I’ve fallen in love or I just got married by accident.

“I’ve just joined Virgin,” I squeaked at the last slurp of soup from my bowl, while everyone else was eyeing the platter of bananas that Kaka Wanee had brought to the table. My parents were silent—I wasn’t sure if they knew what I was talking about—but my sister-in-law’s eyes lit up, so did my nephew’s.

“Oh, Gugu’s a virgin!” he blurted out, pretending he recognized the word as some victorious Goddess.

How could anyone’s heart not grow soft at such a nonsense proclamation from a soon-to-be ten-year-old—endearing not so much for its silly semantic trip-up, but its sincere intention to give me a high-five, a warm rah-rah for a fine, newfound accomplishment. 

“Sweetheart, you heard me wrong,” I corrected him, smiling and stroking his arm. “I didn’t say ‘I am a virgin,’ I said, ‘I’ve just joined Virgin.’ Virgin Active, to be exact.”

“Oh, Gugu’s an active virgin!” he corrected himself, to which everyone at the table shook their heads in amusement, warmed by that precocious air of know-it-all that didn’t quite hit the mark, but bulls-eyed on all the funny, goofy tickle spots.

When indeed he later confessed that the word “virgin” was something “disgusting,” something he was only pretending to know, like the million other things he assigns a pretend wisdom to, I just couldn’t help giving him a squeeze, thinking: “Well, he isn’t all that wrong. These days, I have indeed been an active virgin.”

It’s a nice double entendre, perhaps triple.