Not long ago, I was that person who spent *hours* creating the perfect workout playlist. I knew exactly which movements I would perform and how long my gym session would be. I’d time the up songs with the hardest part and pull on a slow jam when I knew fatigue would set in. My training was an experience in both creating and fulfilling. I’m not sure which fed into the other. I do know that it took a lot of time and effort to carry through. I liked the work and precision. It made lounging around the rest of the day feel deserved.
One day, between busy errands, I forgot to bring my iPod. The choice was to either get a full training session in or cut it in half and go back for it. I chose to maximize my workout. It was awkward to move without the comfort of my music. I was no longer isolated within the socially off-limits bubble of earbuds in. There were people around, and I noticed them. It was hard to communicate with those who were in sync with own spheres of rhythms and beats. You have to create gestures and be overly polite. No one wants to ruin what they find important for someone else.
It’s weirdly revealing to go to a place of exercise and not have both the buffer and the propellant of your music around you.
Less this most perfect of distractions, you are forced to pay attention. First it might be an awareness of what other people are doing. Then, you’ll start to focus on what you’re supposed to be doing. I should be feeling this in my shoulders. These skips should be faster, with more pop. You’ll definitely judge what your fellow exercisers are choosing to do, but you’ll neglect evaluating yourself, at least for a little while. Your paper and program is still perfect. You did the research and even paid for what you gave yourself access to. There’s no way your system is flawed.
Seemingly out of no where, what follows is the acknowledgement that your system is actually someone else’s. Like the music you captured, it’s a copy of another creator. Sure, it’s your arrangement, but it’s also your bind. This is what is available so this is what I’ll use. Slowly, there is a metamorphisis around control and creativity. Controlling less about your external environment leads to controlling more within. Instead of the music urging you onward, your connection with your muscles dictates the intention and the task. The audible-training experience transforms into one of mind and body.
You’ll notice how freeing it is to never get your earbuds caught. Without searching, compiling, and organizing a playlist, you’ll find you have a few extra hours in your week. You’ll spend some extra time playing around with movements, adjusting yourself until you’re sure you’re getting every correct bit of tension out of it. Soon, you might even stop bringing your clipboard with your sets and reps outlined on it. You’ve got the basics memorized. You’ll be done when you say you’ll be done. You don’t worry about cutting things short because you never do less than you need to. Getting to the gym is still an experience you look forward to and savor.
Before you know it, you start paying attention to everything. How your feet interact with the ground when you walk. If your hips are rotating. Whether your abs are engaged fully. What your pelvis is doing. These all become an automatic part of your sentience. You appreciate such findings. You automatically break down others’ movement patterns, giving practice to your eyes and movement empathy. You long for time in the quiet. Just you and your thoughts and the infinite possibility of discovery. Your plan is just to be present in this. The gym was once the place where you felt most alive, most conscious of your place in this world. Now that feeling has crept everywhere — at the store, in your car, on a hike through nature or a neighborhood. Simply being has become your experience, and you deliver on that acceptance all the time.