This morning I went to the gym. Not entirely unusual as I’m making it a habit to do so. Even though I despise gyms! Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration. I can think of worse places to spend my time. Jail. Nuclear reactors. Office meetings. But since I don’t own a bunch of weight equipment and I’ve realized the importance of body building (Or simply to build stronger muscles to avoid injury from other more fun physical activities.), I got a gym membership.
When I exercise in other places, I find being mindfully engaged with the physical movement and location is more natural. For example, while surfing it’s so easy for me to get lost in the moment. I watch the waves build, my pet dolphins that come to visit, and my proximity to the shore and other surfers. I notice my breath. I listen to the sounds of birds, children yelling, or a less than zen surfer having a little temper tantrum. I smell the salt water and fresh air. I taste the salt water. I notice how it feels to sit on my board with my legs dangling in the cold water, how my arms feel paddling, and especially the sensation of standing up while a wave propels me forward. I also notice how it feels when I get pummeled by a wave and am stuck underwater for longer than seems safe.
Not so much at the gym.
At the gym, I find myself mostly stuck in my head, counting reps, while simultaneously thinking, “Ugh, this is my least favorite exercise...That’s why you do it first... Okay, only 5 more... Try not to think about it...That person looks like they’re going to hurt themselves… Look at that guy’s arms... If you were better you’d do 10 more... But I can’t overdue it or I might get hurt… Is that just an excuse?” And on and on and on. I look for a TV to further distract myself, but unfortunately the gym I usually go to doesn’t have TVs near the weights. Occasionally I catch myself and think I should be mindful, but then I become willful and decide, “Nope, don’t wanna!”
Today, for some reason, something shifted.
I found myself making up stories about some dude with a notepad because I was annoyed that he was documenting his workout while sitting on the last machine I needed to use to finish my torture for the day. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out what he had to write about for what seemed to be as long as he had used the machine itself.
Then, I had the thought, “Maybe he’s being more mindful than me. And documenting it. Maybe I can just chill out and be in this moment, accepting it for what it is.”
So I watched the dude write. Not for too long since I didn’t want to seem like a total creeper. So then I watched others get their exercise on. Without any judgmental commentary. I did an extra set. Cause why not. And I had to practice mindfully squatting.
I felt my muscles burn. Then the burn gave way to simply noticing the sensations of movement. I listened to the soft buzz of conversation and machines making machine sounds. I didn’t smell or taste much, which is probably a blessing given where I was.
As soon as I was present, the dude picked up his stuff and moved on. Yes! Now that is why we practice mindfulness. To get what we want!
It is ironic that as soon as we’re fully present and let go of wanting something to be different, that is when we get what we wanted to begin with. I did still dash over to the machine because if another person had hopped onto it, I don’t know if my mindfulness would have withstood the test. Still I was able to be fully present for each rep.
And now I’m so into the gym. Not. But I hope I’ll at least enter those doors with a different attitude and commitment to remain present next time. And that my friends, is what mindfulness is. Practicing presence over and over again. It’s exercise. For the mind.