How many of our problems could we solve, from bad sex to bad cooking to bad relationships, if we just paid attention?
A lot of them. A lot of them is the answer you’re looking for.
My own training space has yet to open, but I’m able to train my clients in a few different generous facilities in the area. For the places that have televisions, I’ve noticed that people spend an inordinate amount of time watching cable when they ought to be paying attention to what they’re doing.
A really good gym, in other words, like a really good bar, doesn’t have televisions. (Perhaps here it would be wise to make a distinction between say, a watering hole, and a Bar with a capital B. A watering hole is a place you go after work to knock a couple back and joke about Jim in Accounting’s propensity to fart silently in his cubicle. A Bar on the other hand, is a place you go to create, build upon, or re-establish intimacy. There are no televisions because you’re paying attention to the quality in your glass and the presence of your company.)
I’ve watched people all week walk into various health clubs and zone out in between sets, or worse, watch television while performing some sort of exercise. Sometimes you’ll even see a little television mounted on the treadmill, elliptical machine, or other cardio equipment.
What’s wrong with watching a little television at the gym? After all, if I’m someone who hates going to the gym, why can’t I check out a home-flipping show on HGTV while I’m doing lunges?
The television-at-the-gym attitude stems from the old idea that you’re there to burn calories or lose weight. As long as I’m burning calories (and thus losing weight), the thinking goes, then I’m fine, television or not.
But that attitude misses at least half the reason why we ought to be going to the gym, which is learning how to operate our own bodies.
Yes, get stronger.
Yes, change your metabolism.
Yes, build stronger bones.
Yes, set and exceed personal bests for various lifts.
But don’t forget to learn how to MOVE.
Don’t forget to learn how to tilt your pelvis this way, or retract your shoulders that way, fight hyperextension in your spine another way.
Don’t forget to learn what it feels like just short of exhaustion.
Don’t forget to learn what it feels like to use your butt to squat.
Because that connection between brain to muscle is what will keep you injury-free and moving well as you age. If you’ve spent all of your time sitting on a machine and scrolling through Kanye West’s Instagram feed or watching Sportcenter in between sets you’re missing something.
During one of the most stressful years of my life, I would wake up occasionally from anxiety about having to face the day ahead of me. Somewhere along the line I learned about a meditation technique that never failed to put me back to sleep, and it had everything to do with listening to my body. I still use the technique to this day.
When I wake up in the middle of the night because of anxiety, I think about my body starting down at my toes. I feel the way the sheets and covers feel against my feet. And I don’t move up to my shins until I am sure I am really feeling my toes and feet. Once I internalize all of the senses involved in one body part, I move to the next.
This type of meditative technique works for two reasons. One, it gets me thinking about something other than what I’m worried about—which is almost certainly something about which I can do nothing in the middle of the night anyway.
Second, it reminds me of my body. Focusing on my body, my breath, and my aliveness all serve as reminders that I’m living and breathing and okay. I’m okay.
This is just one example of how tightening the connection between our minds and bodies can have a dramatically positive effect on our lives. What better place to begin closing that gap than at the gym?
If you’re already working out, I implore you to turn away from the television set, away from your phone, and toward your body. Rest for that 90 seconds in between sets, and think about how your body feels. You’re alive. You are alive. And you are okay.
For extra credit, incorporate the same technique the next time you’re with someone you love or someone with whom you think love might be a possibility. Look into their eyes. Don’t be creepy about it, but watch their bodies, the way they tilt their head when you ask them a question, the way they talk with their hands, and the way they smile when they talk about their hobbies. Human beings can’t help but reciprocate this kind of connectivity. And I promise you that what follows will be more interesting and infinitely more gratifying than anything you’re likely to see on your phone or on T.V.