I realised near the end of 2016 that although I spend quite a lot of time going to the gym to work on my body, I very rarely think about working on my mind.
It was a time when my mind felt frazzled and drained: An accumulation of too much alcohol, stress and being constantly busy that I had no time to myself.
Like many others, I wanted to ensure that come January, I wouldn't get myself into that position again. I love going to the gym, but if I'm working so hard on my exterior, it should be because I believe the foundations - i.e. my mind - are worth building on.
I've dabbled in meditation classes before and channelled mindfulness through the Headspace app but I still feel like a beginner when it comes to slowing down looking after my mind.
I headed to Jung Shim Wellness Centre to a "Qi class" to kick off my new mindset that my mental wellbeing was worth investing in. The place oozed relaxation. The walls were white, the smells appealed to my senses and everything was so much slower compared to the crazy busy streets surrounding Oxford Circus beneath us. It was a different world up there.
I was invited in and removed my shoes for some comfy slippers and sat in the reception listening to peaceful music. Worries from my day were already fading away and I hadn't even started the class yet. I was told this was like any other gym, but one that focuses on our mental wellbeing. In that sense, people pay a monthly fee, go to scheduled classes and meet regulars.
The "Qi" class is said to "restore the smooth circulation of energy throughout your body". The aim is to highlight a connection to yourself, in a world where we are constantly thinking about the future or stuck in the past. "Qi" is another word for energy, a "force that flows through all living things".
I was told when we're stressed, we're drained of this essential energy and it creates blockages in the body. According to the Eastern philosophy, we're unable to function properly when we have a shortage of energy. The Qi class aims to stimulate energy and the blood flow using breathing techniques and releasing tension. Before this daunts you, let me tell you something about Qi - you don't have to understand it or be experienced to reap the benefits of it. I didn't, and still don't, feel entirely clued up on the concept of receiving energy, but I walked away from the class with a new mindset from my day.
The class was broken down into three formats: Chanting, movement and meditation.
The chant sounds, I was told, have a specific vibration that "opens up the energy system" to help clear the mind. We started with this first and sat on cushions on the floor with the words to chant in front of us. I was told these chants were a way to clear the busy mind of negative thoughts and reconnect the body to a calmer rhythm. As I focused on the individual sounds (which is hard when you're a beginner) my mind began to declutter because all that mattered in that moment was feeling a sense of togetherness with the people in the room chanting along with me. We went through the "script" three times and by the third time I felt more comfortable, the words came out more easily and everyone in the room seemed to relax slightly.
Next was movement, that was focused around strength and flexibility. As a beginner, my movements were simple but slow, incredibly slow. In fact, that was the hardest thing about it - I am constantly multitasking on a day-to-day basis: rushing to go the loo so I can get back to my desk, rushing home so I can get to the gym, then rushing home from the gym to cook dinner. My life is on fast forward, so grasping the concept of moving my hands and arms slowly around my body was incredibly difficult for me. But the longer we did it, the slower I was able to move and the more present I felt in the room. It's crazy isn't it? That the hardest thing for me was being slow, something that should be so easy.
The class finished with meditation and I was so relaxed by this point that despite it being 15 minutes meditating, it felt like I was lying down for five minutes, if that.
Stimulating energy was, and still is, new for me. I don't know if I'll ever understand how these movements open up the energy system in the room but what I do know, is that I left that class feeling lighter, like my movements were in slow motion. I walked onto Oxford street towards the tube and I didn't want to rush, because I didn't want that feeling to go away just yet.
So whether I go back to an energy class again or not, that hour taught me the true meaning of slowing down and the importance of silencing your mind, even if for just a short period.
It's easy to forget that our brains need a workout just like our bodies do. But they do, they really do.