A mindful, body-based approach to working out in the gym

• 5 min read
A mindful, body-based approach to working out in the gym

It was more than a decade ago that I first entered what was, at the time, an intimidating environment called the gym floor.

My first gym was small, there wasn't really anywhere to hide, and being a) next to a rugby club and b) a place with a weights area, the majority of the other guys were... bigger than me. I've got a slim build, what Ayurveda aficionados would call a vata dosha.

As a teenager (16 or 17, I think), I had joined the gym for one reason and one reason only. I was skinny. I had been aware of it all of my life, and I'd often be reminded of this by unhelpful relatives, as well as this mean kid who, during a family vacation when I was by the pool, decided to call my skinny frame out in front of a couple of girls and ask "Haven't you ever been to a gym?"

I don't need to tell you that moments like that can stick with you for a long time.

My approach to (and relationship with) "the gym" has changed a fair bit since then. Here's what it was like then vs now, and how my workouts have changed along the way:


I was skinny and I wanted to get bigger, period. I was insecure about my body and went through a phase of heavy weights, protein shakes, eating lots of eggs, meat and carbs to grow in size. I'm a slow-eater, and we're talking 4-6 meals a day... stuffing my face with carbs late at night comes to mind.

To be honest, beyond the newly-found bulk atop my still-skinny legs, I remained the same, insecure person underneath. I may have been visibly 'bigger' on the outside, and I'd feel the "buzz" after a workout, as well as the satisfaction of an aching body, but on the inside I felt the same about myself. In fact, the whole "getting bigger" thing is a slippery slope where you always feel like you're not enough, and fraught with comparison, machismo and ego. I've watched in recent years as gym-going has gone more mainstream and the Instagram culture has emerged.

A good workout was one in which I had destroyed my muscles, with sets involving the heaviest weights I could lift (possibly with a 'spotter' to help me squeeze out a couple more reps). One more rep... one more rep. Thankfully, I learnt and stuck to pretty good form and I didn't (knowingly) cause myself any injury during that time, or lasting ones. But, yeah, the general gist was: heavy weights, 3-5 times a week. With lots of eating in between. I felt bigger, but sluggish and... not like myself.


My workouts consist of stretching, body weight exercises, and light weight exercises ( = more repetitions vs heavier weights). At time of writing this, I'll go through today's workout as an example:

- I started off with some stretches on the mat
- Then I did some swinging from the bars  
- Some bodyweight lunges, and then lunges holding light weights
- Some leg extensions, then pull-ups alternated with triceps (cables)
- Some shoulder raises, coupled with barbell tricep extentions lying on my back ("skull-crushers")

The focus of each session, rather than push myself into oblivion, is more to get into my body.

I focus on my body and how it feels whilst I'm using the weights, (vs admiring my muscles during the workout and obsessing over the 'pump'), coupled with the stretching I mentioned, hanging/twisting from the bars, and any excuse to have my feet on the ground (I take my trainers off for the lunges), or my back against the floor.

My workout feels more embodied, where I'm noticing and tune more into my body.

As I push, pull, or move with the weight, I try and notice the feeling of my body whilst working out with that weight; for example, for the "chest press" exercise, as I draw it towards my chest, and then slowly push it up above my chest again. This feels like a more mindful way to work out.

Another favourite is twists laying down on the floor; a previous INFP yoga teacher told me that twists are great for the nervous system, and I can believe it, as they feel soooo good.

This doesn't mean that there's no intensity when I work out. Though I don't push my body to the extremes I did before, I also train with the intensity that feels right; and, yes, some days I'll nudge myself towards doing a more strenuous workout, other times it might be a lighter workout, or one more focused on stretching/body stuff/light cardio.

And I've learned to embrace my natural, slim, lean vata body.

At one point I was embarrassed to be seen in shorts. I now wear them for every workout, with or without leg-warmers underneath.

I feel less of a need to compare myself to the "bigger guys" (I go to a different gym now, but the majority of the guys there are bigger than I), or even to be in the free weights section. I plug my music in and do my own thing (did I tell you I love music? Part of my feels like a big part of the workout is the mini-rave it involves each time. Though I do like to wind down with calmer music (or no music at all), finishing up my workout with some stretching/yoga.

I embrace myself more as I am, and I've learned to work out in a way that feels good to me. I would recommend that you try yoga, tai chi, pilates, or a practice that involves slower, more embodied movements... whether you're a gym / running / sports bunny already, or you're not very active in your lifestyle.

If I could start anywhere, it would be yoga. It's through yoga that I have learned stretches and movements that I now incorporate into my workout on the gym floor.

No more busting a gut with heavy weights for me. It's more about mixing my stretching with body-weight & light-weight exercises, and light cardio, pushing myself as much as I feel need to, choosing the intensity to which I go.

Focusing on my body and how it feels, rather than pushing myself and how my body looks, feels a lot better for me.

I listen to what my body is telling me, try to notice it whilst I am exercising, and hopefully give it the workout it needs.

from the podcast

Narrating and adding commentary to my blog piece: On being an empath, sharing why I feel like I am one, but why it doesn't really matter whether you resonate with the term or not.

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👤 Jas Hothi is an INFP, writer & curator of INF Club. If you're an INFP, INFJ or an intuitive, subscribe to his newsletter and you'll receive Happier, an e-book sharing how he navigated his transition away from conventional '9-to-5' life & began his creative, heart-based journey.

← Episode 55: Roxana Alexandru on becoming socially confident & owning her "messy" journey
Episode 54: On being an empath (or not) →

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