‘Buddhist Psychotherapist’ reads the business card, but my first session with the shrink was not a zen experience.
In my family when we get sick we don’t go to the doctor. We have a hot bath and an early night, then repeat as needed. We don’t take sick days off work, we don’t complain if we feel ill and we don’t have much sympathy for those who suffer from bad health.
We most definitely don’t go to see a psychotherapist for an invisible aliment.
The British stiff upper is deeply embedded in my character, no doubt passed on for countless generations. We do hang our heads with shame and go to the doctor if our body is failing us completely. But, as far as I know, I’m the first person on my family tree, dating back to 1245, who has ever been to a doctor for a mental health problem, although not necessarily the first one who could benefit from it.
So as I settle into the pleather chair in the therapy room I am doubly ashamed, first for seeking medical attention and, worst of all, for seeking it for a mental health problem. Then I bring more shame on myself during the 60 minute session by blubbering, blowing my nose loudly and breaking out in a cold sweat. I hope the shrink didn’t notice that though.
‘Sit with your depression,’ I am told.
But I don’t want to do that at all. I’d prefer to go to cage fitness, take a punishing boxercise class or sweat it out at Bikram yoga.
Although I’m slowing down a bit now and starting to think that maybe this grand plan to heal myself through exercise and document it here was a very bad move.
At a family outing to the beach I confide to my jogging friend Tess that I’m struggling to keep up with the 52 Exercises quest and we plot various activities we could do together.
An ocean swim worries her because she’s a weak swimmer and scared of sharks, an aqua aerobic session at the pool is fraught with problems of a different kind and a mountain hike takes too long.
Our children surf, dig holes and climb trees. Our menfolk boogey board, play frisbee and bat and ball. When they tire of it we pick up the bats and have a go too.
I have a bad history of feeling like I’ve broken my leg after playing bat and ball in Florida. There’s a funny story about that. And Tess is reluctant because she’s just come out of the sea and is wearing only a wet bikini.
But I shove my irrational fears of bat and ball to one side and show Tess how to tie her towel round her waist so it doesn’t fall off, a little trick I learnt in Africa: just make sure one corner is hanging out and the other tucked in. Then we start hitting, or trying to hit, the ball to and fro between us.
We laugh when we miss the ball, laugh more when we hit it and soon realise that all this jumping around in the sand trying to hit a small ball is making us catch our breath.
Then I realise that maybe bat and ball is exercise.
It’s not sitting with depression but nor is it the full pelt competitiveness of soccer, the exhausting pace of outrigger canoeing or the anxiety-inducing indoor wall climbing.
Maybe beach bat and ball is the perfect combo of exercise, fun and relaxation and certainly, compared to the beach goers who are lying face down sun-baking as they call it in Australia, we are in full exercise mode.
Did Buddha exercise? I don’t know.
But, if any Buddhist or mindfulness student would like to exercise, loosen up and relieve the often sedentary nature of meditation, I recommend a game of beach bat and ball.
Beach Bat and Ball Exercise Review
Cost: $25 for a bat and ball set. Ours is the Comocean brand from Anaconda which must have been so popular it’s sold out but you can pick up a Wahu bat and ball set from Anaconda for the same price or look out for them in big department stores or camping shops.
Time Exercising: 10 minutes. Not a lot but it’s a start. If you can only do ten minutes of exercise it’s better than nothing and remember you don’t have to be at the beach to play bat and ball. You could play in your garden, at a local park or even on a quiet street.
Average Heart Rate: Since this was a spontaneous session I didn’t wear my heart rate monitor.
Fun Factor: 8/10.
Fear Factor: 0/10.
Post-exercise Glow: 7/10.
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