Updated from the original article published January 1, 2015 when I still had a gym membership 🙂
I don’t listen to music at the gym. Somehow, it feels like sensory overload. Surrounded by sights and sounds, feeling sensations in my body, being with pain – how can I engage my ears as well in this cacophony of stimuli?
It wasn’t always this way. I used to love listening to music that revved me up, that helped to get my adrenaline going. What changed? Mindfulness. I turned my gym experience into an opportunity to practice.
Mindfulness allows us to attend to each thing that happens in our experience, one by one. We practice mindfulness by slowing everything down and either:
- anchoring on just one object like our body moving with the breath, returning to our anchor when we notice our mind has wandered; or
- simply being aware of all stimuli in our experience, reminding ourselves to return to this open awareness when we find that our mind has wandered into memories or future projections.
There’s no scarcity of fodder for mindfulness at the gym. Here’s an excerpt from my last 30 minute cardio stint:
“Should I check my email?”
Ah, a thought about distracting myself. It’s nicer not engaging with work stuff. I can just be with the simplicity of what’s going on here.
“Will my arms get sore in this position?”
Ah, a fear about pain. Let’s just pay attention to sensations in the arms and change position if need be. No need to plan just yet.
“Is that infernal stair-master making all that racket? They should do something about that. It’s so annoying.”
Ah, feeling annoyed. It’s not making my experience here any nicer. I could just let that go and I’ll feel calmer. Disengage from reacting. There’s nothing to be done about the stair-master.
“15 minutes to go? Ah, this is getting painful. I don’t like it!”
Ah, resistance. That’s not going to make it any easier to be with the next 15 minutes. Just be with this pedal rotation … and this one … and this one …
Plenty to do at the gym! And I can work out as well.
I have come to appreciate my workout “quiet time” – nothing to plan or attend to. If I’m feeling stressed and need to move some energy through my system, I turn up the pace and stretch myself aerobically. It turns that inner chatter off completely and pumps some awesome natural chemicals into my system!
So if you don’t have time to meditate, see if you can find time to be with some other experience in your day. Maybe one during which you ordinarily distract yourself (riding the subway, driving to work, walking the dog). These can be precious times for ….
If you’re interested in a secular residential mindfulness retreat in the US midwest, check out this new offering by the Midwest Alliance for Mindfulness. I’ll be inviting us into mindfulness and somatic self-compassion practices designed to cultivate our ability to keep ourselves company through thick and thin.