The Gym Diaries: Headspace

Peace, transcendence, a mild ecstacy. Headspace.

People who practice meditation, yoga, or intensive cardio (during the warm up and cool down phases) likely experience headspace.

What is headspace? I don’t know that the strict definition will be all that helpful but for your reference: 1. The unfilled space left above the contents in a sealed container, and 2. A person’s state of mind or mindset.

Obviously, I’m speaking to the latter. Even then, that second definition isn’t terribly helpful. Loosely, headspace refers to one’s mental state, as in, ‘Sorry, I’m in my own headspace right now and I can’t focus on much else.’ That’s how we typically interpret headspace, something that is personal in experience and totally occupying to one’s current state of thinking. This common usage is not incorrect but there is more to headspace.

Headspace can also be the absence of thought, not just the excess of it. Headspace can be a void, a freedom from thinking, a letting go, a giving in. It’s a place of quiet appreciation for the moment and nothing else.

Think of an orgasm and subtract the physical and emotional components and that is headspace: A floating, unburdened, tension-relieving, peace.

Here’s why I’m bringing it up.

It’s common for me to hit headspace pre or post workout. I practice deep core stretching as my abdomen and shoulders (where I carry my stress) get very tight. And, unless I want to be wound up and edgy the next day, I have to work that tension out before leaving the gym. Because I’ve practiced serious yoga in the past (I don’t anymore) I utilize deep stretching pre-workout, and I make use of yoga stillness techniques to cool down.

Recently, I was in pose and headspace hits me like a soft and subtle high. Mentally, I’m elsewhere. I have happily checked out from planet Earth and pondering nothing. Do you have any idea how often I ponder nothing? And then I feel it, somebody’s well-intended but interrupting hand touching my shoulder, asking me if I’m ok.


I am slammed back to planet Earth, brick-like thoughts following in quick succession. Bam, bam, bam. I would rather be interrupted while I’m writing…while I’m writing.

The well-intended stranger quickly backed off and excused himself. I’m guessing the look on my face might have had something to do with it.

I was in pigeon pose, which looks like this:

Now, I can see where this pose, from an unfamiliar perspective, looks like I may have collapsed on myself. I don’t stretch in a studio or a designated classroom space, I warm-up on the mats which are open to everyone. It’s hard for me to believe that this person is entirely unaware of these movements as I’m not the only one who uses yoga poses to stretch out in the common areas, but whatever. I’ll give this guy the benefit of the doubt and assume he meant well when he approached me.

I want to make people aware of that fact that A) unless someone is convulsing, clutching their chest, has fainted, is foaming at the mouth, or snoring do not interrupt – nevermind touch – people at the gym. You have NO IDEA what someone else’s capabilities in physical fitness are or what activities he or she can accomplish. The things you can learn just through observation are amazing. On that point, B) don’t be a creep by staring either. There is a difference between observation and creeping out on someone. If you have questions and want to learn about something you saw, wait until the other person has reached a stopping point. Your curiosity can wait.

Very rarely does one need to impose. A lady flew off a treadmill once and I helped her up. That’s the only instance I can think of where I interjected myself into a situation.

I see people go into headspace all the time and will stay there for awhile too. For your visual reference, here is a shortlist of very common poses that you will see as a regular gym attendee:

The Forward-Fold. I get into headspace all the time with this one.
The Cobra. Excellent for stretching out the lower abdomen and relieving lower back tension.
Folded-Pose, Twist. Commonly used to relieve tension in the hips and back.
My favorite, Extended Child’s Pose. To recoup one’s breath and relieve upper body tension.
Butterfly Pose. Stretches out the hips while relieving tension there too. As much as I exercise my hips, this is a critical pose for me.
Dead Man’s Pose. I never use this one but a lot of people do. If you see someone with their wrists up and legs splayed, they are in Dead Man’s Pose, not actually dead. Leave them alone.

Yes, I have strong expectations for the gym. If you attend often enough, you will too. Do you know what it’s like to be bluntly interrupted mid-sentence? Someone failing to appropriately observe a situation and interjecting into one’s personal, physical endeavors is exactly like that but, you know, bigger, and more irritating.

Use those powers of observation and take care of yourselves out there.

Christina Schmidt, MA