My 7am gym class is full of lovely, friendly and supportive women. Our gym is really welcoming and our class is pretty diverse. We’re all ages—from twenty-somethings with newborns to grandmothers—and we’re also all shapes and sizes. The gym is the place we all go each morning to try to combat things about our changing bodies. Maybe try to tighten things up a bit, get that backside to bounce a bit, get those arms to stop flapping a bit. We go to the gym each morning to change. 

We’re also all in a hurry, because we’re women and we’ve got 10 million things to do, which makes the 7am class very transactional. We show up, we get in, we get out and we get back to our jobs or our kids or both. Last week as we were walking out of the gym after a particularly grueling cardio/core day, Erica asked if we wanted to try something different. She knew of a gym that gave pole dancing classes. 

I’m not sure why, but practically in unison, everyone of us said “yes.” I think we were all needing a change.

The day of the class, I started to get nervous. What had I gotten myself in to? What if I looked stupid? What was I going to wear? What if my two-baby-bod couldn’t pull it off? I remembered when I was in my twenties. I would have totally rocked a pole, but now? I don’t know, did I have it in me anymore? Had life and kids rocked the “me” out of me? 

Related: What your daughter learns when she sees you confident in your body

We walked into the gym and met Carla. Carla was everything I needed to see. She was older, life-experienced, pole-experienced, comfortable in her skin, warm, encouraging, and comfortable talking to women like me, who’d forgotten that once upon a time, we used to give ourselves permission to celebrate our bodies. Here are a few life lessons I learned that day in pole-dancing class:

1. Feeling attractive comes 100% from the inside, not the outside and starts with getting out of your head
Carla started by having each of us pull a card out of a hat with our “stripper name” written on it which we had to use the entire time. Maybe this was to help us loosen up and be silly. Maybe it was a way for us to step away from our regular lives and be someone else for an hour. I’m not sure, but I know it was fun and it helped. And, for those wondering, my name was "Trixie."

2. EVERY body is beautiful
In the class, I was reminded that my body can do amazing things. It's a magical portal that ushered life into this universe—not once, but twice. It doesn’t matter if it looks like anyone else’s body. About half way through the class, we had all completely forgotten to look at anyone but ourselves in those mirrors. Because for that afternoon, it didn’t matter if my body was magazine-perfect. It didn’t matter if it was a little saggy or not quite what it was 10 years ago. It’s mine, it’s strong, it actually could climb up that pole, it’s beautiful and it deserves to be celebrated.

3. Women need women
This is especially true when it comes to accepting our bodies. We are trained from a very young age that being considered attractive by certain standards is important. But to be celebrated and cheered on by women who want nothing more than for you to feel appreciated—and to laugh while “making it rain” on you with fake money—I’m telling you, it’s a magical, hilarious thing. 

4. Make no mistake, Pole Dancing is a SPORT
Pole dancing is an internationally recognized, competitive sport celebrated for honoring, strength, endurance, fitness and creativity as it should be. I ached all over for three days after the class and I had bruises in places I had a hard time explaining. Women who do this for a living are fierce beasts and deserve mad respect. 

Related: Why you need to sing your own praises in front of your children, mama

5. I need to stop seeing exercise as the thing I do to change the things I hate about my body — and I need to stop hating my body
This was a big one. In that class, we weren’t counting calories. We weren’t tracking weights. We weren’t measuring our BMI. We weren’t staring at the mirrors wishing things were different. We absolutely were having an intense actual workout and laughing and celebrating ourselves at the same time. 

6. Our bodies are our own and deserve to be celebrated 
Toward the end of the class, our entire 7am gym class had finally done it. We were out of our heads, we didn’t care what we looked like or who was looking. It wasn’t about that. It was about celebrating our power and recapturing all the confidence that the world had sucked out of us. We are mothers. We are workers. We are nurturers. We are beautiful. We are aunts. We are sisters. We are friends. We are women. 

If you ever get a chance to hop on a pole, I highly recommend it. You absolutely can do it. And if you ever meet a woman strong and brave enough to do this for a living, give that queen a high five.