29 January 2020 was the first day of work after the Chinese New Year holiday for most people in Hong Kong. On this day, Hong Kong reported its tenth coronavirus case, which would come to represent one percent of the total number of confirmed cases in the city of seven million based on the latest figures in mid-May.

This was the day I started working from home and more than 100 days have since passed. During this period, we quit our former apartment in Causeway Bay and moved to Lamma Island. While our move was not due to the Covid-19 situation and the growing paranoia, it could not have been more timely.

Two months later, fitness centres in Hong Kong, together with cinemas and saunas, were closed for several weeks due to new physical distancing measures. I joined my first live-streamed fitness class in late March and have since been attending six sessions weekly on average. This is the most that I have ever exercised on a regular basis.

Working (out) from home
Working at home means I am not wasting time getting ready for work nor commuting to and from the office. I have more control over my time as there are less interruptions than if I were in the office. Instead of travelling to a gym, I roll out my mat in front of our bookshelves, set up my iPad, log in to Zoom or Instagram, and I am ready to get moving. Plus I do not need to wash up or change after a sweaty session before starting work!

More importantly, it is an urge to move and to be active that drives me to exercise. Now that I spend much more time at home than before, exercising relieves my frequent bouts of restlessness and the tension in my body due to my sedentary work.

However I have been surprised by how exercise has affected me emotionally during this extended period of working from home. Like many people, I feel better after exercising. But it is not just because of the endorphins. Being present as I move mindfully has a meditative quality that I have come to relish. While I have tried meditating including using apps such as Headspace, I usually have trouble focusing or I fall asleep too soon while lying still.

Most of my workouts at home involve strength-building and mobility movements coupled with high-intensity interval training. Because I have to focus on my form and breathing and keep count of the repetitions, exercising takes my mind off work or any stressful matter. As I am often preoccupied with something, it is liberating to be mentally present as I move with intent and pay attention to what muscles I am using and how my body feels. There is no room for multi-tasking.

For the same reason, I prefer working out with no music and I avoid studios that blast loud music alongside purported mood-altering lights as these overwhelm my senses. Though I can imagine how such sensory stimulation can have an opposite impact on other people by blocking mental distractions and physical sensations.

With the uncertainty that surrounds me, being able to work out at home at my own pace has also afforded me some sense of control and comfort. I may or may not have a job, someone I love may or may not fall ill… there is so much more that I could be fretting about. By refocusing my energies on moving and breathing mindfully, I am less bothered by what is beyond my control. I am revitalised when I feel drops of sweat trickle down my back and I am grateful to be able to move freely and to get stronger over time. 

Democratisation of fitness
Due to the lockdowns around the world, there has been a sharp rise in online and live classes that can be readily accessed as long as you have reliable high-speed internet or 4G connectivity.

You can join classes led by instructors anywhere in the world — ironically, the world has gotten smaller and more accessible in some ways even though country and city borders have become almost impermeable. Virtual classes are generally cheaper than studio classes, and there are many free quality recordings to be found online. There is a wide selection to choose from in terms of genres, intensities, and durations that cater across different ages, physical conditions, and fitness goals. Many workouts require minimal or no professional equipment, with certain household items such as canned foods, wine bottles, broom sticks and towels acting as handy substitutes.

Mobility exercise with a curtain rod

Signing off now to practice some basic primal movements. Stay well, positive, and active!

3 replies on “Movement as meditation

  1. After the first week of lockdown, more than two months ago I realize how important was for me, at my age of 71 to keep fit. Since than I started one hour of stationary bicycle everyday and inthe afternoon I walk up and down on the terrace of our apartment for 45/60 minutues, when the weather is good (spring is around).
    The bibycle I do in front of a screen where I can see some docu from the german television, mostly about art. This I do in order not to forget my german. When walking up and down, which could be quite boring I wear my headphones and listen to an audiobook, in this moment is “Solaris” by Stanislaw Lem. I also do some weights liftin. And as you say all this helps me to detach a little bit from the daily bad news…it is also important to try to relax a little 🙂
    Be safe, pay attention!

    1. Hello Robert, good to hear that you’re well and keeping active physically and mentally while cooped up at home. I wish my dad would exercise more like you instead of watching Korean dramas on the television. My mum is more diligent with exercising and follows YouTube videos on low-impact walking movements. I try not to spend too much time reading most news as they tend to be focused on negative stuff and creates unnecessary anxiety while eating away my precious time. I recently started revising my rudimentary Japanese, and it’s a much better use of my time than following the news 😉 Take care and wishing you well!

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