FitBits - fitness for fun and wellbeing: 2018

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Sunday, 2 December 2018

What happens in a gong bath?

What happens in a gong bath? Tess Agnew Brighton fitness blogger

Last night I laid under a blanket in a room full of strangers and was bathed in sound for 90 minutes. It was incredible and just what I needed at that moment.

Music has always been great therapy for me. For as long as I can remember I've been into it. It's always helped me focus, be creative, to think and to feel.

I meticulously curate my work and run playlist in search of meditative focus and euphoric progression. Alongside my favourite bands, my work/run playlists are filled with mostly drum n bass, house, psytrance and ambient electro (Calibre, Jon Hopkins, Moderat). I also really like working, running and driving to classical music - at the moment I'm particularly bumming the music of a German pianist and film score composer Dirk Maaassen (totally check him out).

I know that whatever music I can write or work really well to will be just as good to run to as well, and when the right music is played during my favourite yoga classes it's always easier to get so much more involved, and sail into Savasanah for a gorgeous meditation.

Maybe it's my musical mind that makes it so easy to get lost in a gong bath? Because the 'music' of the gong is so all-encompassing, so enveloping, so penetrating (oh matron); so specifically designed to leave any stresses and anxiety behind and take me straight to that magical meditative place.

I don't have to try to get there myself, like I do sometimes with floatation or silent meditation. There's no need to acknowledge my wandering mind and push the thoughts away like clouds - all I need to do is lie down comfortably and listen to the gong, in this moment, and - literally, so it feels - ride the soundwaves that follow.

What the hell is a gong bath? 


 What happens in a gong bath? Tess Agnew Brighton fitness blogger

A gong bath is an ancient type of sound therapy that's been practiced for thousands of years. The term 'bath' signifies being bathed in sound waves - there's no water or touching involved. Fully clothed, you lay comfortably on a yoga mat, for 90 minutes, to be - in Gong Practitioner Patricia's words "cocooned in a sonic immersion".

The thing that makes it so special is that it's a totally immersive mind and body experience. Sound doesn't just enter through your ears - the vibrations go through your whole body whether your ears are consciously listening to it or not - massaging and stimulating you inside and out.

Because you're focusing on the sound (it's pretty impossible not to), it declutters the mind, clears emotional blockages and apparently helps to heal physical aches and pains.

What happens in a gong bath? Tess Agnew Brighton fitness blogger

The class set up is much like a restorative yoga class, with all the props you'd expect for deep relaxation - bolsters, cushions, blankets and eye pillows - along with big FO sized gongs and other instruments such as singing bowls, tuning forks, wind chimes, shakers, bells and rattles, as well as the  practitioner's voice.

The practitioner will strike, stroke and play these in a variety of ways to create therapeutic sound waves that reverberate across the room and envelops all within it. I can't tell you what it looks like for sure as I've never lifted my eye pillow to look - and I wouldn't want to.


How does the gong actually work? 

What happens in a gong bath? Tess Agnew Brighton fitness blogger

Last night Patricia introduced the sound of the gong to the group for those who hadn't been to a bath before, which was really helpful for acclimatisation. 

It's so much more than the expected 'boinnnngggg' you think you're going to hear when you first see them - the sound goes on forever all around you. You can feel the vibrations in your body as well as in your mind, and almost sounds like something in outer space. Immediately it becomes clear that there's something way more profound happening here than just 'listening' to some noise.

It's difficult to put into words why a gong bath works and what sound therapy does so I looked it up and this definition from Mindworks sums it up quite nicely:

The gong sound is changed frequently to avoid producing a fixed, monotonous rhythm. The auditory stimuli of the gong bath process lead to 'entrainment', a form of beneficially modified brainwave frequencies.

The first brainwave state to be reached is alpha, which is defined by frequencies between 8 and 12 Hz. Alpha brainwaves are associated with creativity and feelings of relaxation. In this state, people experience daydreams, associative thinking and an animated imagination.

This state is quickly followed by an influx of theta brainwaves, which fall between 4 and 7 Hz. Normally, the theta brainwave state is associated with deep meditation, hypnosis and REM sleep.

Finding my flow in meditation

What happens in a gong bath? Tess Agnew Brighton fitness blogger
Taken at the amazing Escape to the Sky yoga event this summer with MyEscape & Nine Lives Yoga. Photo Sarah Alice Yoga & Photography

For me, meditation is something that fascinates and frustrates me in equal measures (although I know frustration is not its aim!). I love it when it 'just works', and my body and mind align to reach that ever-elusive meditative state, but it's hard on my own so I find it much easier with guidance, and sound.

Which makes a gong bath just perfect - there's nothing you can do but focus on the sound.

I remember my first gong bath last year, with the same awesome practitioner, Patricia at SonicSoul, just blew my mind. I turned up not knowing what to expect (I hadn't YouTubed it and I'm really glad I didn't), thinking it might be nice gentle ambient music and an hour of guided meditation, and got lost on a journey so deep inside my head (or not?!) I couldn't tell you where I'd been, and I floated out of the studio feeling amazing.

The same happened last night. I found that state - or actually, I sailed right into that state with blissful ease. Before I arrived I was worried about not being able to 'get into it' as I couldn't remember exactly how my first time a few months previous had started. But we had lots of time to get comfortable beforehand, and Patricia started the class with a guided meditation and visualisation focusing on the breath to settle us in for relaxation.

I was gone before she'd even stopped speaking.

For me, that guiding is so, so important to my meditation practice. And this meditation, this downtime, I've realised, is important to me.

A promise to myself

What happens in a gong bath? Tess Agnew Brighton fitness blogger
My happy place - on the mat. Photo Sarah Alice Yoga & Photography 

I've been a bit strung out this past month or so, and yesterday's self care day is something I should've done sooner, and should be doing more of. Whilst I've had an amazing year in some ways, it's also been a very difficult and stressful one in others, and it's made me realise that I need to work more on my own self care to be strong for those around me.

I'm very good at training my physical body - I love nothing more than to hit the gym, get out for a run, or jump on the bike, and feed on the endorphins for hours. But something I'm not very good at is looking after my own mental health at times of stress.

I've had an amazing time being so busy with brilliant freelance work that's challenged and inspired me daily, but I've not had time to write my blog - except for this post about why I need a digital detox; do enough yoga, book a floatation or practice meditation, and these are the things that keep me sane.

Making self care a priority - Tess Agnew fitness blogger


The mind is a muscle, and just like other muscles you can train it to be stronger - to focus more, to be more resilient, to stay calm and with clarity under pressure. These are all qualities I could do with more of, in work and for life. Meditation's not actually about clearing your head at all, although once you''re able to you'll certainly feel a lot clearer. It's about training an awareness and compassion in ourselves - an awareness to notice our thoughts and feelings and understand our minds more clearly, without judgement.

To be kinder to ourselves and to others. To give ourselves much-needed time and space in this hectic, always-on life. To breathe.

It's something I need more of (I always have), so I'm making a promise to myself for 2019 to make my self care and mental health as much of a priority as I make my work and fitness goals - so that I can be a better, happier, and actually just a more emotionally balanced version of me.

The gong bath I went to is run by Patricia at SonicSoul and is on every first Saturday of the month at  Energy For Life Yoga & Functional Fitness, in Kemptown. Find out more at www.sonicsoul.uk.


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Catch up on other wellbeing posts:


Read about my first floatation, and what happened when I did a three day float challenge

Read about that time I did yoga in the sky

Read how I'm trying to do a digital detox without completely giving up my tech. 




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Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Why I need a digital detox




When was the last time you looked out of the window for a whole train journey? Watched a whole film or listened intently to a whole song doing nothing else? Can you honestly still have a whole conversation without instinctively pulling out your phone to Google something? 

And when was the last time you ate your dinner without scrolling social media or watching TV?

I need a digital detox.

Ooh, I said it out loud. 

Scary thing to say for someone who works in social media, right? It’s always been a problem for me. I can never give it up fully because I’d have to give up my job, and I’ve always hidden behind the whole ‘I need social media for my blog’ veil but… well. This is the first post I’ve written in over a month, and before that it was a few weeks’ previous too, so that’s not really working for me, is it?



At the moment I’m loving my life. Living my best life, you might say. My freelance adventure has given me the wings I’ve craved for so many years to set me free. I’ve worked with some amazing clients on some really worthwhile projects. 

Social media content and strategy for cycling community projects, articles for The Body Coach (read my latest one on digital detox here), This Girl Can and other fitness clients, and last week I helped start a new after school bike club for girls aged 14-16 with Sustrans. I've rewritten websites to help brands find their voice, and written blogs and created social content to engage and inspire audiences.   


This is the stuff that makes my heart sing, and I feel so, so lucky – but also very worthy, actually – of everything it brings me. I’ve been working so hard for the past 16 months, probably harder than I ever have, and I feel gratitude every day - even when I'm suffering writer's block with a deadline looming and all I need to do is go and exercise. (Note to self: don't let that go when things get busy - those endorphins are your brain fuel!) 

But yeah. It’s such a great feeling to wake up every day and be excited to go to work. To genuinely love Mondays, and be inspired, motivated, and most importantly interested, in what I’m doing every day. To have flexibility and freedom and complete autonomy. To choose to work with some amazing people (and have them choose me). 

It's just brilliant. 


The face of someone who *finally* met that deadline :)

There have definitely been a few ups and downs along the way, with a few lessons still in the process of being learned, but I wouldn’t change it for the world as I’m 100% the best version of myself right now. Or 90%, at least...


The quest for tech-life balance


One thing I would change, is restoring my work-life balance. 

Or actually, my tech-life balance. I’ll never be able to go cold turkey but there are definite steps I can take to be honest with myself about whether my phone / internet use is bringing real benefits to my life, or seeping into areas it shouldn’t do, robbing me of my focus, forcing me into impulsive ‘multitasking’, and affecting my ability to just be.

My latest piece for The Body Coach – the deadline I finished this week – is on how to do a digital detox without completely giving up our tech. I’ve spoken to a range of experts who’ve brought home a few truths and made me realise there are more important things than staring hunched over into a screen - whether that's for work, my blog, or play.


Rooftop view provided by the amazing Platf9rm 



These are the things I will do to bring my brain and my body the space it craves:

Make the bedroom a no-phone zone


That means buying an alarm clock – remember those?! Or using my TomTom watch to vibrate and wake me up. No more snooze, no more nighttime scrolling, no more late bedtimes and early starts. I need to prioritise my sleep as much as I try to prioritise my training.

One of the experts I spoke to for my latest piece reminded me of a simpler time when we only had a handful of TV channels, Internet was only available at a desktop computer (dial up!), and the only way to speak to anyone on the phone was to call the landline - which "no one did after 9pm unless granny was dead." 

I remember getting my first mobile phone when I was 14 (2000). It was a revelation. And even then, without all the bells and whistles of having the world (wide web) in my pocket, I *still* spent hours texting and calling friends in between playing Snake. The beginning of the end was nigh...

"Phones and tablets are not inherently bad. What is bad is our relationship with them," says Dr Neil Stanley, independent sleep expert and author of How To Sleep Well. 
"We've broken the convention of time. Just because we can take our devices everywhere with us, doesn't mean we should do. 
People spend a lot of time and money on trying to feel good - gym memberships, healthy food, multivitamins and supplements - but they're not prioritising the one thing that would benefit them more than anything which is get a good night's sleep - it's the very foundation of physical, mental and emotional health.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while you’ll know this is an ongoing battle I have with myself. I love a morning workout, but when it comes to tech time I'm a bit of a night owl. When I do actually get time for my blog I tend to write after 9pm once Chris is in bed, and that means I'm not shutting down until gone 11pm for sure, sometimes nearer midnight. Then trying (and at the moment failing) to get up for 6 or 7am classes and early morning runs. 

In short - it ain't working. And I'm gonna give it a proper go to change this time.

Log off 30mins before bed


For a new habit to stick it needs to be introduced in baby steps. Once I’ve got the hang of reading a book or magazine instead of scrolling before bed, I’ll up the time from 30 mins to maybe an hour. 

Maybe I’ll start writing my diary again or do some colouring in to give me something set to do – that’ll be easy to do for more than 30mins.

Does anyone else find colouring in really relaxing, by the way?


Set boundaries and stick to them 



No missing workouts - I must take proper breaks, even when I'm struggling to work and deadline is looming. Endorphins feed the brain. Remember that. 

No phones in the bedroom, bathroom and at dinner. No aimless scrolling - everything will be done with intention. I'll set a Screen Time limit on my iPhone to limit social media use from 9.30 - 7am, and I'll *try* really hard not to take photos of everything and be a bit more intentional about the shots I do take. 

Like when we used to have film and knew we only had 24 photos in a roll. We chose them wisely and we relished that first look on opening the envelope. Remember that?


Practice meditation


Read my posts about floatation therapy here and here

I’ve been saying it for years that I need to do more yoga, be more mindful, get into meditation properly. Now’s the time. No, really, it is. Promise.

I’ve read lots on how mindfulness can help quieten the mind to improve focus and concentration, and let’s be honest, wouldn’t we all love a bit of that right now? At least one weekly yoga class *without fail*, and I'm downloading Headspace.

Watch this space. And also read this blog I wrote on 7 self care tips I think I need to remind myself of. (Although I'm still doing pretty well at no. 1 - #thisgirlcan) 


Rekindle old hobbies


A photographer snapped me taking a photo of a sunset (without me knowing)

As well as the obvious fitness escapades that I still try to fit in I used to play guitar, take photos, write my diary, do crochet, play board games, read books, watch films. I miss the simplicity of getting lost in a good book, don’t you?

There’s a pottery painting workshop in Brighton that I cycle past daily on my way to my brilliant coworking space. Will I ever find time to go in there? A lampshade making workshop that I enquired about months ago to make some nice shades for our flat. The interesting-looking life drawing class I saw in a café the other day – let's find out when the next one is. 

This is the photo I took. You can see him taking a photo of me in the left corner :)


Plan internet-free writing time for my blog


Yes, I’ve been very busy this past month with freelance work, and yes, my RSI does need managing so I can’t be typing all the time, but if I cut down my tech use elsewhere I’ll have energy and time to write my blog again - like I have done just now. 

I’m thankful that my phone battery died minutes before sitting down on the beach to write the majority of this post. It meant I had no 4G to tether to and distract me – my ever-present internet limb hastily severed just as the sun was about to set. So whilst everyone else was taking photos, I had nothing but my eyes to cast this picture to my memory. Now the sky is a backdrop of deep burning red against the silhouettes of my fellow sunset-hunters. I can’t share with you what I can see, but don't worry, everyone else has). I did take a wanky ‘looking at the sunset’ photo earlier on Photo Booth because I’m a twat like that.

You’re welcome.

 

There are plenty of ways to rebalance the tech-life scales without giving up our devices completely. 

It won’t be easy at first, but like giving up cigarettes it’s the habit that’s hard to break, not the activity itself. With the same will power and perseverance I think we can all bring a little more meaning back into our lives and celebrate the joy of missing out again.

Social media will still be there when we get back :) 


Honestly though, how’s your tech-life balance?


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