Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Lessons From A Health Spa

The Easter holidays are in full swing and I’m doing my best to resist the lure of the chocolate eggs scattered throughout the house. It’s not easy but I’m powering through. Actually, it’s not as tricky as I thought it would be due to my recent spa retreat.

So, the kids were away for a few days with their Dad and I couldn’t face being at home without them, awaiting the arrival of the Easter Bunny. Instead, I decided to treat myself and go to a health spa. If you don’t deserve a relaxing break when your Decree Absolute finally arrives (see A Time For Macaroni Cheese) then when do you?!

I packed up my fitness magazines, meditation manual, gym gear, swimming costume, a couple of books and I was good to go! I was looking forward to a rest for both body and mind. Some relaxation, a modicum of exercise and a healthy serving of nutritious food. Was it wrong to stop for a bacon roll on the way in preparation for my stay?

I was grateful for the carb-sugar boost actually as my relaxing spa break didn’t really start well. Nowhere to park, the robe they gave me was way too small (lacking in subtly, I felt), the consultant for my first appointment didn’t show up, one of the treatments I’d pre-booked didn’t even exist (still not really sure how that happened), the lamps in my room didn’t work and the over-bath shower screen had to be propped open by wedging a face cloth underneath it. But apart from that, it was lovely. I was trying to think calming thoughts.

Determined to make the most of my time away I’d booked some treatments in advance, allowing myself plenty of time for quiet relaxation as well as the pampering itself. They even emailed me my schedule before I arrived! I know this idea may fill some of you with dread but trust me, I am a much more relaxed person when I’m organized.

My focus over the last couple of years has been on survival. Getting through each day intact whilst wading through piles of papers relating to separation, divorce, financial planning, house sale, house purchase, utilities, secondary school options, kids medical appointments etc.

I got bogged down in the detail and forgot to stop. I spent so much time trying to achieve an extensive fully ticked to-do list each day that I was missing out on the bigger picture. I forgot to take care of myself and enjoy life. My weekend away was truly enlightening and I discovered some really interesting things…

1. My Right Side Is Wonky, My Left Will Follow Shortly
In an attempt to ease the ache in my shoulders and neck I made an appointment with an osteopath. The “discomfort” I had been suffering is not merely down to my age, as I feared, but my appalling posture, which in turn had also caused what I had previously suspected to be tennis elbow. Basically, if you’re feeling insecure and curve your head and shoulders in or if you hunch over a laptop or i-device for most of your day you are constantly engaging your upper back, shoulder and neck muscles whilst disengaging your front pectorals. This leads to the former hurting and the latter weakening. I think that’s right. So it’s time to stand tall, lift my head up, put my shoulders back and stick my boobs out apparently. I seem to recall writing similar advice about flirting although in a slightly less overtly sexually aggressive manner (see Don’t Look Down).

2. I Am Overweight
This information was not news to me. However, I had been trying my best to be at one with my body, love myself and be happy in my own skin. The trouble is, I’m none of those things. So I can either feel miserable about it every time I catch sight of myself in the mirror or do something about it. As it’s my new policy in life to be happy, I’m going with the latter… no more bacon rolls for me!

3. I Look Better In Gym Clothes Than A Spa Robe
The spa robe gave me a marshmallow like quality that I wasn’t altogether happy with. No definition, no waist, just a blob. On the upside, I looked reasonably ok in my closer fitting gym clothes. It’s all about wearing the right thing for you and your body (see Who’s Up For Some Zhooshing). I vowed to wear my gym gear more often… and exercise in it too!

4. I Can Dance Like Darcey Bussell
Ok that’s a stretch. I mean I took a dance exercise class called DDMix co-created by Darcey Bussell. I loved it. I looked like a grinning beetroot by the end with an endorphin overload that made my mind want more than my body could provide but I WILL dance again!

5. I Want To Run Away… And Come Back Again
Specifically, I want to run 10k then go home with my medal and enjoy a relaxing bath. I’ve done a couple of 5ks and always talked about maybe doing a 10k. So, why not? Surely I can’t be too busy to get fit? If I combine my running with getting outside and having fitness fun with the kids plus exercising the dog I’m ticking three things off my list in one go. How efficient is that? It’s a win-win-win!

6. I Need To Buy A Bicycle
Why haven’t I done it yet? The kids want to cycle in the lovely, safe, flat area where we now live so I let them go out and watch the clock to make sure they’re back in one piece at the appointed time. Err… I could go with them! I tell them I can’t go because I haven’t got a bike. Err… I could buy a bike! The three of us, on our bikes, with a picnic in my rucksack. What’s not to love? Except if it rains. I have my limits.

7. Swimming Is So Much Better Than Drowning
I mean that literally and metaphorically. In literal terms, I love the quiet of swimming. The muffled distant sound of people laughing around me. But, what I hear most is my breathing, exhaling through my nose under the water before bobbing back up for air. I’m in my own world. And that’s where the metaphorical swimming not drowning comes in too. Sometimes, we just need to block out the noise of life to concentrate on our own bodies and wellbeing…

8. Meditation Calms
You don’t need to wear a special robe, sit in an impossibly torturous lotus position or chant words you have no translation for. Ten minutes a couple of times of day, sitting straight-backed on a pillow on the floor, hands on knees or thighs, just breathing. That’s it. Thoughts can come and go, but you always come back to focusing on your breath, in and out. I’d forgotten how calm I felt after a short session and oddly how much taller I feel. The more you do it, the easier it gets.

9. Mindfulness Rocks
Ruby Wax. Mindfulness For The Frazzled. Read it now! Everybody! I’m working my way through the book but I am mightily impressed by this woman so far. I’d previously written her off as a loud mouthed, brash, American pain in the neck but I was so wrong. It’s not just the Masters Degree she gained from Oxford that’s won me over. It’s like she KNOWS ME! She even knows my first waking thought of each day! Anyway, here’s the thing. We spend time and money planning our future - what to cook for dinner, where to celebrate the kids’ birthdays, which holiday destination to pick and so on. Yet all we do when we get to the thing we’ve planned for so hard is worry about what’s happened in the recent past or plan for and panic about what’s coming up next. We don’t savour our food, have fun at the kids’ parties or truly enjoy our holidays. We need to practise living in the moment. I’m not exactly sure how to do it yet as I haven’t got to that chapter but I am definitely going to keep reading.

10. Doing Nothing Is Essential
Downtime is crucial to rest, remember who we are, recall what we value, repair ourselves physically and recharge ourselves mentally. I did a lot of nothing this weekend. We spend so much of our time “doing” but we feel guilty for having a lie in, sitting down before the ironing basket’s empty or enjoying the view from a park bench mid dog walk. Doing nothing has a bad reputation, but I feel so much better for it.

So, now the kids and I are all back home together – running, cycling, swimming and eating more healthily too, but still enjoying a sensible amount of chocolate! I feel physically recharged, mentally rebooted and ready to enjoy my life again. Long may this feeling continue!

But I wouldn’t be in this frame of mind if I hadn’t stopped to do nothing for a while. I wouldn’t have discovered points 1 to 9 if it wasn’t for number 10.

If you take just one thing away from reading my ramblings today, let it be this. Find fifteen minutes to do nothing. Sit in a quiet room with no distractions. Stand in the garden looking up to the sky. Walk through the woods without your children or dogs.

Just let your mind wander wherever it wants to go. Allow yourself to be relaxed enough for interests to surface rather than chores, solutions rather than problems, curiosity rather than necessity, creativity rather than routine. You’ll be so much more effective for it. And you might just find a bit of you that you thought you’d lost…

Right, now where’s my sports bra?


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