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WRITTEN BY MOMTAZ
PHOTOS BY LISA LENS
Trying to stay fit at a Retreat Centre, believe it or not, has it challenges! Before I moved to Taraloka, I would walk to most places; to work, to the shops, to the Buddhist centre, etc. I used to attend several gym classes a week prior to yoga became my main form of body movement. I do prefer exercising in a group rather than on my own, though, I used to find something a little artificial and pretentious about gym classes.
At Taraloka, our office is only a few steps from our lovely home. So there isn’t much walking involved in getting to work and access to facilities outside Taraloka almost always involves a car trip, with the nearest shop several miles away.
Despite having beautiful countryside surroundings at my doorstep, planning in walks to keep fit felt oppressive and another thing to fit into my daily schedule. So, to make it more enticing, I started barefoot walking along the canal and around Bettisfield mosses. I love the different sensations under my feet, observing the changes in the landscape and listening to the variety of bird songs. I have also found that bare foot walking has improved my blood circulation and I no longer need to wear socks in bed. I now go walking most days, come rain or shine!
Outdoor activities at Taraloka really intensified with the lovely weather we had in May.
This has led to a number of green gym activities for the Taraloka community. The basic premise behind green gym is that it offers an alternative to conventional gyms, but with far less carbon footprint, using outdoor activities as a means to increase health and well-being. The workouts are intended to be relatively inexpensive, with the social benefits of group activity and the joy of engaging with nature whilst getting fit[i].
As a community we decided to consciously take part in more green gym activities during Buddhist Action Month (BAM) in June.
Hryidayagita kicked off the green gym craze by introducing weighted hula hoops to the community and a few of us are now active fans. We have 2 hula hoops and we often practice in pairs out in the gardens of Taraloka.
Maitridevi discovered a spot for wild swimming at Hanmer Mere which is only 3 miles down the road. Maitridevi, Maitrisiddhi and Elaine cycle down there regularly and have a good swim. They are all very good cyclists and swimmers! Trish, Hridayagita and I have joined them on occasions.
On 21st June, we headed out to the mere for our community night. Six of us cycled to Hanmer, whilst four travelled by car. At Hanmer, a path through the woodland on the eastern side of the lake leads to a sandy bay, and the mere itself is surrounded by lush greenery. The lake is alive with nature, clean and inviting. I do enjoy the luxury of swimming in a wild lake.
I am also keen on practicing with the hula-hoop. I am at a point where I can mambo as well as walk whilst keeping the hula-hoop going. I even convinced Suchitta to have a go and she got really good at it. It was a great community night out being with others who were engaging in healthy, outdoor activities and that helps to keep my motivation up too.
I have asked a couple of community buddies to describe their experience in their own words:
Living in a rural environment, I have found hard to keep fit. When I lived in
Worcester city, I would cycle to work, cycle home, cycle out in the evening to dance
class, Tai Chi class and Sangha night. Over the seven years I’ve lived at Taraloka,
I’ve realised I’m more of a “keep fit by doing interesting classes” rather than the
type who enjoys going down the gym!
So, I was really excited by the suggestion we had a green gym for BAM, and it didn’t
disappoint. Cycling the 3 miles to Hanmer mere for a wild swimming session in the
cool, dark water pool was delightful. I swam all the way across and back this time
and it was stunning - quiet and peaceful with just the sound of the water as I swam,
not the echo and music of a public pool! This was followed by some hula hooping –
the latest Taraloka craze - which was great fun, especially when trying to sing at
the same time. And then a cycle home (up quite a steep hill for the flatlands) and
chips from our local chip man “Grandad”. I felt refreshed, re-vitalised and open to
the beauty of our surroundings. As it was summer solstice that night, we continued
with the outdoor theme and had a silent walking ritual around all the Buddha’s in
our landscape. Beautiful.
“I’ve come to love the Shropshire meres: wonderfully present but ancient as the hills. Our sunlit solstice at Hanmer held both of these. Very rare glacial lilies flowered on the far edge of the water. I came to walk and watch. I wandered along the mere-side path, reaching no end but hoping to see how far it went. I watched my fellow community members in delightful and possibly eccentric activity: swimming, hula-hooping and skipping. Childhood revisited, lots of laughter and action for ourselves on that bright, longest evening of our Buddhist month.”
Thank you! Momtaz
[i] The official Green Gyms are run across the UK by TVC (The Conversation Volunteers) which are free outdoor sessions where you will be guided in practical activities such as planting trees, sowing meadows and establishing wildlife ponds. The emphasis is very much on health and wellbeing of volunteers as well as helping them to contribute something positive towards their local community.