Allie Strickler/Royalton Riviera Cancun

Getting Over Workout Class Anxiety Isn't Easy, But Here's How One Weekend Changed My Perspective

Nobody tells you just how exposed you’re going to feel when you do yoga in a bikini — and I don’t just mean an innocent tree pose or child’s pose. I’m talking downward dogs, cat-cows, and high lunges, with only a damp bathing suit to support your boobs and your butt as your body moves through the twists and turns. Maybe this is one of those things you only think about when you’re an introvert who has a tough time getting over workout class anxiety. The sheer feeling of sweating your *ss off in the presence of other people is enough to make anyone feel overwhelmed, but when you throw in a bikini it was a whole different story.

That’s the thing about exercise for me: I mostly like to do it alone, with only my boyfriend or my cat around to watch what I’m doing, and a YouTube video or Instagram screenshot to tell me what moves to do. Still, that doesn’t mean I don’t fall into my own workout ruts from time to time, or crave something different every now and then. So when I was invited to experience Royalton Fit classes at the Royalton Riviera Cancun (RRC) in Mexico — aka where I had that bikini yoga experience (I promise, it actually wasn’t that bad in the end, but more on that later) — I knew I’d be shaking things up in my routine, one way or another.

Royalton Riviera Cancun

And as exciting as literally all of that sounded (and was, once I got to experience it all firsthand), the introvert in me was immediately hesitant about the idea of working out in a group for an entire weekend. I know, I know — I had this unbelievable opportunity presented to me, and I was concerned about what? Just being around other people more often than usual? It’s a tough thing to explain, but personally, I’ve always thought Amy Schumer described it best in her book, The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo:

Being an introvert doesn’t mean you’re shy. It means you enjoy being alone. Not just enjoy it — you need it. If you’re a true introvert, other people are basically energy vampires. You don’t hate them; you just have to be strategic about when you expose yourself to them — like the sun. They give you life, sure, but they can also burn you.

So it’s not that I was afraid of or resistant to the idea of working out in a group (guys, I went to gym class in school for like 12 years, I've got this); it’s more that I was nervous about putting myself out there enough to enjoy this trip and everything it had to offer me without acting like someone I’m not, and without overextending myself and my natural, not-so-out-there personality. I went into the weekend knowing it was going to be a challenge not just for my physical body (mind you, my home workout routine isn’t exactly consistent), but for my mental well-being, too.

Friday's Workout: A One-Hour Bootcamp Class

For an introvert like myself, the mere thought of doing a group workout class first thing in the morning is enough to make me sweat. But with a lot of coffee and even more endorphins in your system, you can do anything — at least, that’s what I was telling myself that morning so I wouldn't feel quite as nervous.

When I arrived at the resort’s fitness center, my class and I were greeted by our personal trainers, Belinda and George Kiriakou, who also happen to be the wife-and-husband power couple in charge of the entire Royalton Fit program at the RRC. Now, when I say Belinda and George are full of energy — not just in their workout classes, but even when you’re chatting with them over cocktails — I mean they make you feel like a switch just got turned on inside your body. You’re at full attention, you’re interested to hear what they’re going to tell you next, and you actually feel engaged by them, mentally and physically.

While plenty of fitness coaches might just bark orders at you and make you feel like you have to push yourself to the point of physical pain, Belinda and George’s main goal always seemed to be for us as a class to genuinely enjoy ourselves, smile, and yes, sweat a lot.

Now, as an introvert, this type of in-your-face energy usually doesn't sit that well with me because, more often than not, when it's juxtaposed with my more reserved energy, it can make it seem like I don't want to be involved in whatever it is we're doing, or that I'm not enjoying myself in some way, even if that's the furthest thing from the truth.

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And really, it was the furthest thing from the truth that day. While I initially moved with shaky, nervous legs through our warm-up stretches, mentally bracing myself for the judgmental stares that (I assumed) would soon come from everyone around me, I eventually lost myself in the rhythm of the workout itself, which centered around fast-paced, bootcamp-style exercises. And even though I was worried about having not one, but two fitness instructors around to tell me and the rest of my class what to do and critique my every move, Belinda and George quickly dispelled any doubts I had. Yes, they're kind of in-your-face when they're shouting at you to keep moving through battle ropes exercises, kettlebell squats, TRX workouts, and stability ball planks, but you can tell by their genuine smiles and their total willingness to help with anything you need — whether it be more water, an adjustment to your form, or even just a joke about how ridiculously hard some of these workouts are — that they just want you to have fun with the class rather than push yourself too hard or too far. As an introvert who expected nothing but added pressure from the presence of two fitness trainers, not to mention the presence of the workout class itself, it was definitely a relief to realize the only thing that mattered to them was whether or not I was having fun.

I'll admit, it took a lot of mental strength to focus more on the actual workouts I was doing and not on the people around me or what they might be thinking. Every now and then, I'd catch a glimpse of myself in the gym's mirrored wall, and I'd start to slip down the mental rabbit-hole of self-judgment, which inevitably includes worrying about how other people are judging me, too.

For me, the most effective trick here was to focus as much of my attention as I could on counting out my reps, even if that meant doing so out loud. When your focus is on counting correctly and trying to complete a certain number of push-ups or squats in under a minute, it's practically impossible to think about anything else. In truth, this bootcamp class was so fast-paced, I simply didn't have time to worry about anything besides the exercise itself. I quickly realized, whenever I allowed my attention to be distracted by the presence of other people, my form started to suffer, or my focus began to slip, and I wasn't actually getting anything out of the workout. The only way to really make the most of this experience, I thought to myself, was to lose myself in it completely, to mentally shut out that invasive presence of other people.

So that's exactly what I did: I let go. I let myself forget about all the people around me. I pretended I was the only person in the room for those 30 minutes, and I focused only on executing the workouts as best as I could. Sure, I definitely got confused going from one circuit to the next (on more than one occasion), but in those moments, my mind only cared about staying on-task — not to mention I was actually comfortable enough to laugh at myself along the way. And by the time the class was over, I just felt good. I felt alive.

Saturday's Workout: A One-Hour Boga FitMat Yoga Class

Royalton Riviera Cancun

(Aka that bikini yoga thing I was talking about earlier.)

Royalton Riviera Cancun

Boga FitMat Yoga is pretty much exactly what it looks like: You hop onto an inflated, somewhat-stable yoga mat, and you try to maintain your balance as you move through a sequence of yoga poses. Yes, it's harder than it looks, and yes, it is so much fun. It makes you feel powerful and graceful, and personally, it showed me I'm a lot stronger than I give myself credit for.

Royalton Riviera Cancun

But I didn't find that strength or appreciate it right off the bat. As we settled onto our mats to begin the class, I couldn't help but fixate on how open my legs were in most of the poses, and how exposed I felt in nothing but a bikini in front of a pool full of strangers.

Not only was I anxious about doing yoga, in a bikini, in a group workout class, but the class itself just so happened to be located in one of the resort's main pools, meaning we quite literally had an audience of vacationers watching us the entire time. In fact, a group of young, creepy guys parked themselves off to the side of our class for the entire hour (because of course they did), and I could practically feel their eyes on me as I moved through the different poses.

Royalton Riviera Cancun
Royalton Riviera Cancun

See, I could have allowed these things — the guys standing behind me and burning a hole in my sunburned back, the feeling of my boobs hanging and dripping water into my face while I was in downward dog — to completely ruin my ability to enjoy this workout. And yeah, that almost did happen. But the thing is, I love working out so much (and yoga especially), and a few minutes into the class, I realized I had two options: I could either focus on and feel the leering eyes of everyone surrounding the hotel’s main pool, or I could close my eyes, breathe, and pretend I was in the privacy of my usual spot on my Bushwick apartment’s hardwood floor. I’m not saying it was easy to choose the latter of these two things, but it did feel a hell of a lot better than trying to sneak a glance at that group of weirdos behind me while I was in down dog.

According to Poppy Jamie, founder of the mental well-being app Happy Not Perfect, who’s also on the UCLA Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital board of advisors, these types of uncomfortable situations really come down to one thing: your perspective. “If you can’t change your situation, how can you change your perspective? We can always choose how to interpret a situation,” Jamie tells Elite Daily in an exclusive interview. It’s about giving yourself control over your emotions, she adds, and allowing yourself to have more options for how a situation is going to feel for you in the moment. “If we shift our mindset about working out from a negative thing to a positive thing, our motivation changes,” Belinda, one of my fitness trainers for the weekend, tells Elite Daily over email.

And this really can apply to anything you might be struggling with in your fitness journey, whether it’s the many challenges that come with being an introvert in the world of working out, trying to stick to a routine that’s harder than you thought it would be, or simply overcoming the fact that sometimes, you just plain don’t feel like exercising.

For now, the sheer fact that I managed to survive an hour of bending over and twisting my body around in a bikini, in front of a pool full of strangers — that’s going to keep me motivated for a long, long time.