Diary of a spectator at heart (Get it Magazine, September column)

 

I’m having the Last Word in Get it Magazine – this month I reflect on lessons learnt about the real value of getting fit. –Sarah

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My man, Cooper, has told me − affectionately of course − that I resemble a dachshund when I run. You know, a ‘sausage dog’; a cute one, I’m assured. He knows me well, which makes this quite funny because it’s probably true.

I’ve never loved the gym, and I am not a runner (I have been known to jog into Uncle Dan’s though). My aversion to running started way back in grade one. Six years old and attending a small school in Cairns, cane fields rustling in the breeze out the back, all of us were marched onto the oval to run. All the way around in the heat. I hated it. Right there the stubborn Taurean was officially born, and unfortunately for all PE teachers to come, I was to be the one they’d never convince.

My wise mum got me involved in something she knew I’d like – ballet. It was my extra curricula thing. Sadly, at 16 it became apparent my ankles didn’t have the strength, so I took up tennis. I enjoyed it, especially when I discovered I could win by perfecting my serve to ace my opponent, eradicating the need to, you guessed it – run! Resourceful, I am.

Let’s be honest, most of us especially when we are young, care not for fitness but about how we look. I thought I was blessed with a fast metabolism and the ability to eat anything (Muffin Break treats daily and Uni dinners of pasta, cheese and tomato sauce – fail, fail). If the skirt didn’t fit right, I’d go on a walk every morning for a couple of weeks and be fine. That didn’t last.

I was lucky to have Cooper to encourage me all these years. He’s an all-round fitness nut (my opposite). I’ve dipped in and out of gym, Body Combat, Yoga, Body Balance, walking, Barre; I’ve tested fitness classes, diets and supplements, achieving varying degrees of satisfaction. Drudgery, all with the aim of gaining some kind of ‘perfection’. Until I realised that it’s not just about what I look like. Slow-learner, I am.

While I’m sharing wisdom, here’s what else I found out along the way: long term weight maintenance happens because we make better choices and exercise more often than not. Also, active life = good mood, feeling motivated and inspired. So simple!

Recently I saw Andrea Corbett share her moving story. She’s ranked in the top five international female body builders in the world. A former school teacher, she told of how she hit a majorly tough spot in her life and was living on anti-depressants. She didn’t want it to be like that, and following a serendipitous turn of events she says, “I found body-building, and it saved my life”. Her mantra hit home: fitness means looking and feeling good.

I gathered a group of girlfriends to grill them on the topic, and we concluded that without a doubt some (not all, obviously) periods of depression in our lives have coincided with a lack of exercise and unhealthy life choices.

I am a spectator at heart. A very good one too. Once, my friend Julie and I turned up to a footy game to cheer Cooper on, feeling proud for being there in the first place, only to realise we were watching the wrong game. #girlfriendfail

I am a better spectator than athlete. But, despite the foot-stomping, procrastinating and initial disinterest in the gym, this ‘spectator’ does finally get the true meaning of living a fit life. Sexy, skinny selfies might be cool, but now and in the long term, the value in getting healthy is really about the happiness payoff. That’s the advice I share with my younger friends, and the experience I discuss with contemporaries. It’s never too late to get active, to find something you enjoy doing and make it a habit. I’ve just spotted an ad for ‘swing fit’ in my neighbourhood (swing dancing, to be clear). Health. Happiness. Fabulous. It seems running may not even be required.

Read the September issue of Get it Magazine

 

Anzac Day in London

 

Back at home in Australia sometimes you’ll find us engaged in banter at the pub with our neighbours from New Zealand. We’ll give each other a little good-humoured grief about our accents and get into heated debates about who boasts the best cities.

We can make fun of each other at home, you know? But overseas when we run into an Antipodean on our travels we more often than not stick together.

It’s a little like how in your family you can make fun (within reason, obviously) of siblings or cousins, but if someone else tries to, we’ll automatically defend the other.

A lot of this mateship goes back to war times, and on 25 April each year our nations commemorate Anzac Day to observe when our troupes landed at Gallipoli in 1915.

Today Anzac Day still stands as one of our nations’ most important occasions and is marked by a public holiday each year, as well as moving dawn services and daytime military marches.

Incidentally, it’s also my birthday.

Indeed, many of us make the pilgrimage to Gallipoli in Turkey for special dawn ceremonies.

And, there are always services in London including a dawn service at the Australian War Memorial, Hyde Park Corner which is – you might be surprised to know – usually overflowing with attendees.

If you have spent any time travelling or living abroad, you’ll appreciate that the sense of patriotism is often stronger when you’re away from home.

Add that to an emotional national day and you’ll usually find a hive of expats huddling together flying their flag.

On Anzac Day, Aussies and Kiwis unite, and being this far away – just as our men were 102 years ago – it’s a poignant moment to be part of.

It’s for this reason that I jumped on an opportunity that a colleague at work – a lovely lady from New Zealand – told me about.

Each year our High Commission offers passes to special ceremonies, and those with an Australian or New Zealand passport can apply.

You can try this link from the beginning of each year (or if it’s not working, Google ‘Anzac Day London High Commission’).

You must apply for passes to attend this special service, held at the Cenotaph war memorial in Whitehall, and followed by a church service at Westminster Abbey up the road.

Here’s a sample of what we experienced:

The day was moving and memorable. Highly recommended – add the task to your diary from February next year. We’ll definitely do this again.

 

Diary of a mindful commute

I tweet, write, talk about and certainly practise mindfulness and meditation, but in my current state of busyness, time easily escapes me. Consequently I’ve wondered about ways to enjoy a more mindful commute to work because that’s when I have time.

It makes a huge difference to my day taking time out to breathe and let myself enjoy a peaceful space free of the pressures of the world or worries of my to-do list. This daily activity keeps me calmer and less reactive, particularly if I’m in the middle of a stressful situation or I’m tired and in need of a rejuvenating break away.

I really notice when I’m not in this flow and sometimes – lately often – I run out of time in the morning to get into this sacred and important space (twenty minutes is my preferred time frame for meditation, although if I can spare it on a day off, thirty or forty is bliss).

As much as I intend to take the time out, something always comes up, and before I know it I need to run to the bus to make it to work on time.

I have about half an hour on the bus to work, and it’s been on my mind for a while to test ways I can prepare for the day ahead during this commute.

I’ve been really trying to stay reflective, intentional and positive this year, and in this spirit I decided last week to not only test mindful options on the commute, but to document them too.

In London, the commute is many things – 99 per cent of them are not peaceful!

There’s a vast range of annoying noise, gross smells, agitated people, and stress … lots of it. Fortunately I found a way to avoid the Victoria line on my morning commute, but the bus can be slow and feature some ‘interesting’ characters.

Here’s what I discovered about the pursuit of a mindful commute, and they are tips you can take with you, whether you’re on a busy bus or train; possibly in the car, but be mindful of paying attention to road rules!

 

How to have a mindful commute – my week’s diary

Monday I was off to a good start with a seat all to myself on the bus!

I felt like a little inspiration was in order so I opened Soundcloud and found some playlists other users had compiled with audio by Hayhouse authors like Dr. Wayne Dyer. I chose a piece that would take me about 18 minutes along into my journey, and despite background noise and chatter, I was mostly able to focus on his workshop.

In this snippet of audio he discussed the concept of simply ‘being aware’, so after the clip ended, I practised sitting in my chair and observing my surroundings – the trees, cars and passing foot traffic; sounds and smells.

I found ‘simply observing’ was a really interesting, if not calming experience that kept me entirely present without worry or judgement.

During that day at work, for the first time in a long time, I caught myself in the act of not breathing properly.

I’ve been extremely busy lately and I realised – possibly because of my mindful commute activity – that half the time I’m sitting at my desk not breathing properly! I bet I’m not the only one.

Now, I’m conscious to stop what I’m doing and take some deep breaths – even now as I type. I’m sure this is a step in the right direction and it helps with everything from concentration to digestion and a reduction in stress levels.

On Tuesday for some reason I felt like I wanted to listen to music – the kind that gets a little party going in my head!

Now I don’t know what yogis think of dance music, but I love it. There’s nothing like a melodic dance track to get me in good spirits. I decided to go with this but instead of thinking about things while streaming my favourite tracks, I just listened.

Fortunate enough to have a seat on the bus again, I gently closed my eyes and spent the best parts of the music focusing only on the intricate production and cool melodies that some very clever producers had published.

This might very well be the most outrageous and certainly nontraditional way of meditating, but I was focused on my breath and only the sound, and I felt happier for the experience.

Day two was off to a bright start.

Doom and gloom Wednesday hit – it’s been so dull and grey here lately.

Oh, cold. I forgot to mention that! Cold, even for me who quite likes winter (it’s so much better than sweating)!

I wasn’t sure what to try this morning and on auto-pilot turned back to something I’ve tried to avoid as much as possible, that is, spending my entire commute on social media.

Although I am inspired by Instagram and engage with interest groups on Facebook and Twitter, I work in front of a screen all day and know for the good of my sanity that I need to break from it when I can.

On this day I didn’t get a seat.

Drat.

It was a little bit crowded too, but I managed to find a spot in a corner and a hand rail to keep me steady.

Something a yoga teacher taught me a couple of years ago sprung to mind; she said we often hold too much tension in the tops of our legs and into our hips. She taught us to stand steadily on two feet, about hip width distance apart, shoulders straight but relaxed, slight tone to the belly; and to soften the legs and thighs just a bit to reduce the tension. So, I found my posture and breathed through it.

Again I brought into the activity my awareness consciousness from Monday; that is, simply being aware of what was going on around me – observing without judgement or concern.

It worked in bouts – with people getting on and off and noisy school kids evidently enthusiastic about the day ahead, I found this a bit tougher to get into. However, the focus on breathing did help to centre me and I felt like I was making up a little for not sitting down properly to meditate in the morning prior to the commute.

By Thursday I’m usually tired.

I’m naughty and forget to wrap up work on time most days which means I have less hours to unwind at home (yes, I like my work, and am grateful for it).

Feeling relatively unenthusiastic I decided to do something really simple on my mindful commute – experiment with ‘silence’.

That is, I didn’t pull my phone out to listen to music or watch YouTube.

I didn’t read or even write notes or my intentions for the day.

Actually, I intentionally sought out silence.

Of course, I’m on a busy commuter bus with people, announcements, traffic and more surrounding me, but upon starting with a focus on my breath and relaxing the area in the middle of my brow (where your third eye is imagined), I sat and actually relished in silence created by, surprisingly, me.

On Friday I began as I would any other day – I’d actually chosen one of my favourite Gabby Bernstein lectures on developing intentions to listen to.

But, about five minutes into my mindful commute, my dad called.

He’s in Australia, so I take every chance I can to talk to both he and my mum, and as we chatted (albeit I was quieter than normal, so as not to be one of those noisy commuters) I realised that the simple practise of focusing solely on my conversation with him was a mindful act in itself and a positive experience for both of us.

Enjoying a mindful commute when the time calls for it, means an otherwise challenging part of the day has the potential to become a personal and helpful journey in itself!

What are your thoughts and tips though? Let me know in the comments below.

 

Further reading

A couple of articles I found on how to have a mindful commute that you might find interesting too:

How to have a mindful commute (London Evening Standard), includes a definition of mindfulness, why it’s helpful and who else is adopting it.

Wanderlust‘s 50 ways to make a commute mindful