I tried a hypnotherapy gym class and haven't missed a workout since

Walking into Gymbox in Elephant and Castle at 7pm on a Monday night is overwhelming at best. 

Unlike your average commercial gym, Gymbox is sprawling, with two floors jam packed with an array of equipment and, of course, people. 

A DJ plays electronic remixes of the latest pop songs from a booth nestled in one of the corners, music melding together with the clanging of gym equipment. Noisy would be an understatement.

So as I queued up for Commitment Therapy, one of the chain’s many classes, which purports to use hypnotherapy to turn ‘quitters into committers,’ I wasn’t sure what to expect. 

Any anxieties I had – from being in a new, very busy gym, to spending the next hour in a room filled with strangers – melted away as soon as I stepped foot in the studio, which, drenched in an inviting red light, felt like an oasis from the intensity outside.

In the middle of the mirrored dance studio, around 13 yoga mats, each with their own blanket, pillow and candle, formed a circle.

Hannah Apperley, the holistic hypnotherapist leading the class, told us to choose whichever mat we felt drawn to. Somewhat apprehensively I took a spot, noting the uncomfortable fact I couldn’t hide at the back of the class in this set-up.

But this wasn’t a normal gym class – there wasn’t a dumbbell in sight. 

Hannah quickly took us through the structure of the class and the 10 of us – nine women and one man – took part in a sharing circle: one by one, we explained why we had decided to take part in the class and what we were hoping to achieve.

What was immediately interesting was that, for many in the room, taking part in this 60-minute class was less about achieving a specific fitness goal (although this was the case for some), and more about carving out time for self-care. 

The next, and main, portion of the class was a 25-minute group hypnosis which, rather than being forced to watch repetitive images and ‘fall under someone’s spell,’ was much more like a guided meditation.

The key difference between meditation and hypnosis, Hannah tells Metro.co.uk, is that ‘hypnotherapy is more targeted at something that you want to achieve or want to change or it can be a little bit more specific. 

‘Meditation is generally more for achieving stillness by quieting the mind and connecting with the breath.’

Meditation, she says, is more about self-reflection, while hypnosis is about creating a change.

If you’re wondering, why hypnosis? Well, Hannah says that so much of the gym journey is mental and, in a world of instant gratification, hypnosis can help us find peace with having to wait to see your achievements come to fruition.

So, I rested my head on the soft, cylinder pillow we’d been given and enveloped my cold body in the white blanket and began to breathe deeply as the sound of Hannah’s voice floated in and out of my ears, sending me on a journey across a paradisiacal island.

As she counted down the steps that led us on to a tropical beach, I felt myself ‘dropping in’. My body felt heavy as my mind became more and more relaxed, as Hannah’s words formed an immersive environment I felt carried away in.

For a few minutes, I really was walking along a white sand beach, using a torch to burn the bridges that represented my unhelpful habits and beliefs. That is, until someone’s phone alarm started going off. 

I’m the type of person who is easily distracted, especially by repetitive noises, so when I began to hear that familiar tune, the one that wakes me up each morning, my face crumpled, and my heart rate began to increase and my awareness was back in the room.

I guiltily checked my phone, which was lying next to me. It wasn’t my alarm, thankfully, but I did see a message from someone I wasn’t on good terms with. Great timing.

I tried to ignore it, to drop back into that deep state of relaxation I’d found just moments before, but I couldn’t quite get there. (It later transpired that, sans Hannah, I was the only person in the class who heard the alarm).

Instead, I used the remaining time to breathe deeply, to relax and to allow my mind to wander to the tune of Hannah’s voice, taking mental notes of some of the helpful and inspiring phrases she uttered.

Once the guided mediation was over, Hannah woke up a couple of the women who had dozed off into a deep sleep and we began another sharing circle about how we found the session and what we took from it. 

It became clear then that this class was about so much more than reaching a fitness goal. 

Some people realised they should spend more time taking stock of their wins each week instead of thinking about what they could or should have done. Another woman spoke, teary eyed, about how Hannah’s words brought a lot up for her, about what she’d overcome so far in life. 

I think it’s important to note that, while this class came at a good time for me – my new year’s resolution this year was simply to be more consistent in general – I’m actually pretty good at going to the gym week in week out. I don’t need to be hypnotised to stick to my goals, at least not in the long term.

Instead, I thought about how there are other areas in my life, particularly where my health is involved, that I tend to ignore or deprioritise, due to the stress and anxiety they bring up. 

I realised that I should try to stop avoiding big, overwhelming problems because they feel too difficult to tackle, which is something that, safe to say, I’ve never gained from a gym class before. 

While I didn’t really expect much from the class, especially in terms of sticking to my goals, it taught me that self-care and mindfulness should absolutely be a part of everybody’s health and fitness journey.

And, for the record, I haven’t missed a gym session since.

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