Meditating At The Gym, And A Quick Way To Sabotage Your Reputation

Assume a statuesque seated position on the nearest comfortable surface. Set a timer for 5–10 minutes. Breathe in silence until the timer expires. Focus on your breath. If your mind wanders, gently bring it back. Relax…

That is the traditional approach to mindfulness meditation. But what if there was a way to grapple mental clarity that was less tantamount to masochistic agony for chronic over-thinkers? This method is effective. It really works, but it’s just so damn off-putting. This especially concerns the productive types and workaholics who find it outrageous that they might donate precious minutes to the act of nothingness. This is not an article on time-management, I’m not going to offer a rebuttal to that sentiment, and I won’t convince you that you have enough time to do this (yet). What I’m going to do is briefly describe an alternative that I employ at the gym, which has several physical advantages to the former.

I do this while weightlifting. In fact, my entire workout at the gym is weightlifting. I perform my cardio outdoors. However, it is equally effective during any form of strenuous exercise that consists of repetitious physical activity with intermittent rest breaks. The method is really quite straightforward, and is cognitively the same as the traditional approach described above. You will still attempt to clear your mind and focus in the same manner. The difference is that your environment and physiological state will be not only more conducive to successful focus, but primed for it.

You know those 30-second (or more lengthy) breaks you take between sets? That period of time between hitting your reps and the next round? Those few moments you take after walking from the stair-stepper to the elliptical? You probably spend that time catching your breath, awkwardly glancing around at other people, checking your phone, or wondering what the people on the TV are talking about. It’s the ultimate “awkward moment”. It’s a time that almost all of us feel at least somewhat uncomfortable, burdened by excessive thoughts or the feeling of not know where to put your hands. On top of all that, adrenaline is coursing through your veins, amplifying any underlying anxiety. This state of mental excess becomes the perfect opportunity to train for focus and clarity. It’s a far more opportune moment than those 5–10 minutes in your living room. It’s the difference between training for a marathon on a treadmill, and actually running the marathon.

Here’s what you do: Find a place to put your hands, and put them there. Don’t fidget. I recommend choosing a non-defensive position. That means no arms crossed over your chest or hands clasped in front of your crotch. If you’re standing, simply let them hang at your sides. If you’re sitting, clasp them over your knees. I like to stretch my legs out straight and rest my hands on my upper-thighs. The point is to be in an open, vulnerable position so that you are not in a state of hiding or protecting yourself. Close your eyes and be still. Breathe deeply and intentionally. You will probably have thoughts of how strange you look or wonder if anyone is looking at you and scratching their head. Foremost, in the scope of weirdness at the gym, this falls very low on the scale. Secondly, accept that those thoughts are exactly why this is the perfect time to practice, and be thankful for their presence. Just find tranquility for a minute, and when you are ready, open your eyes and continue your workout.

The benefits of this are many. As you improve, you‘ll be able to absorb the energy of the music you are listening to, and channel it to summon power for your next set. You will regain your breath faster through consistent deep-breathing. Even without music, you will feel more powerful having not spent precious willpower on distractions and chaotic musings of the mind. You will have more strength, higher endurance, and shorter recovery. But perhaps the most exciting benefit is the state of trance-like euphoria that can be achieved when properly executed. (I find that state is easiest to achieve with a soundtrack of energetic ambient music like techno.)

It’s important to re-frame your idea of meditation from a solitary activity to a mindset. It’s the act of focusing on a single thing and resisting distraction. It can be done anytime, anywhere, whenever there exists unnecessary thoughts. You can meditate while driving. I sometimes read books in noisy or distracting places as a form of meditation. You should be constantly pursuing a meditative state of mind at every opportunity.

Since we’ve spent some time discussing distractions at the gym, I thought it might be relevant to share a recent distraction experience of my own. It’s actually a little deeper than that, and I do have a point to make, so bear with me.

So there was this new guy who started appearing at the gym recently with his friend. New Guy was kind of an imposing figure — tall and stocky with prison-style tattoos and a mean mug — but also distinctly quiet. He and his friend kept to themselves for the most part. I could tell he was a little out of shape, but was always working hard. These kinds of qualities demand respect. I try to find things to admire about other gym-goers as an ethical exercise, and I decided that I admired his focus and tenacity. That was, at least, until he gave everyone a reason not to.

“I will f*** you up, bro!” In quite an extravagant display of vocal power, these words echoed from one end of the gym to the other with a loudness that pierced the sanctity of my noise-cancelling headphones. I looked over to see New Guy, red in the face, making menacing gestures and spewing unintelligible babble at a somewhat confused-looking smaller man in the free-weight area. It became clear after a moment of involuntary eavesdropping that the smaller man had inadvertently breached New Guy’s territory by seating himself at the bench he had claimed (apparently with absentee status). After a lengthy and pitiful string of empty threats and intimidation attempts, followed by a good stern talking-to by the general manager to both New Guy and his friend, the pair continued their workout within a palpable atmosphere of awkward tension while the victim of the verbal lashing vacated the premises.

Although my previous impression of New Guy was vague and ill-founded, it was a wholly positive one. My new impression of him is that he’s someone I will unconditionally avoid like a rotten vegetable. Fortunately for me and everyone else, he’s only appeared once since that day. His friend, who had been a regular at the gym for a long time, has also ceased attendance. With one foolish outburst of passion, he made enemies out of every visitor in the gym that day, including staff.

“Keep this thought handy when you feel a fit of rage coming on — it isn’t manly to be enraged. Rather, gentleness and civility are more human, and therefore manlier. A real man doesn’t give way to anger and discontent, and such a person has strength, courage, and endurance — unlike the angry and complaining. The nearer a man comes to a calm mind, the closer he is to strength” — Marcus Aurelius

Most of us don’t suffer from fits of rage like this often enough to warrant serious concern. But truthfully, even the slightest outburst warrants concern. Rude comments, vulgar gestures on the highway, overly-defensive responses to criticisms, these all come from a place devoid of logic and rationale. They are inherently unintelligent, and accomplish nothing. You may think you are proving a point or “sticking it” to some adversary, but you are only making a fool of yourself. New Guy probably thinks he “won” that debacle, but how do you think he feels about it? More importantly, how do the rest of us feel about it? Anyone who bears witness to such an event will surely cancel any plans to interact with that individual, and refrain from making any plans to do so in the future. You are quite literally repelling opportunities away from you, and burying paths that may have lead you to greater success. Your thirst for false victories is guaranteeing your failure. In the words of Catherine Ponder, “ What you radiate outward in your thoughts, feelings, mental pictures and words, you attract into your life.” If you are on a mission to lose friends and alienate people, this is without a doubt the quickest and easiest avenue in that endeavor.

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