In celebration of six weeks knee-deep in Sydney, I manifested a balanced weekend of drinking, dancing and slurping oysters in front of the Opera House with several seemingly mundane and adult-ish tasks: buying a duvet cover (yay!) and hanging frames on the walls of my bedroom never felt so good. Tonight, it has me thinking about what wellness means to me; what it truly means to be living my best life, a phrase I’ve heard repeatedly lately in reference to traveling the world, enjoying champagne-filled brunches and/or posting colourful snapshots of such experiences across Instagram and the like just to make sure it’s official.
My wellness has been an important facet of the new life that I hoped to design in Australia, and I still don’t quite know what the ideal that will look like. From experimenting with running routes around Darlinghurst and trying workout classes during a plethora of free trails to discovering new cafes and making my mediocre attempts at cooking, all that I know with certainty is my desire for good habits and a routine that helps me maximise my day, optimise stress and contemplate all the new experiences I’m taking in on the daily.
LinkedIn’s distinct culture and values lend to a particularly nerdy manifesto within them around wellness: there are six tenets that our employees programs are all based upon. LinkedIn wants to help us optimise our strength, breathing, movement, nutrition, hydration, and rest (yes, I know them by heart). There are countless unspoken reasons why LinkedIn’s onsite fitness centre and amazing activities beckoned me back in SF and beyond, but Sydney’s unique office and this perfectly eclectic and quaint city seem to be setting me up for a new and nice routine entirely its own. There a few key areas that continue to both call to me and help cultivate the best moments I’ve experienced thus far down under.
Getting a werk-out
While the watery boardwalks and lovely lit paths of Sydney make way for beautiful outdoor workouts, I'm also seeking a gym I can escape to and thrive in. This week, I went first to what might have been the next most transformative yoga sesh since the life-changing and breakup-inducing one at Crunch circa 2012. Monday night vinyasa at Virgin Active, the workout haven of my favourite entrepreneur and airline, brought me both comfort and anonymity combined with nostalgia from the smell of the mats, the resemblance of the studios and who knows what else. There were hanging wicker egg pods surrounding the studio and a stage for the instructor, who was quirky and confident in guiding us throughout the soft- and kindest form of vinyasa I’ve ever been instructed on. She said a few words of wisdom that transcended their yoga application and seemed to speak to my life, this place, this instance and circumstance I’m in: soften with each breathe, find safety in being vulnerable, and don’t get ahead of [my]self. Sounded like exactly what I should be doing each and every day in my new city.
Next, I switched it up and tried the third-level city studio that boasts "Fitness First": the most common gym around the city was hosting BodyBalance at five-thirty taught by Steve, someone shamelessly positive and newly back in the game. It was yoga and tai chi (a la Hong Kong in my summer 2011) meets pilates repetition and the need for double floor-mats due to intensity. Sprinkle in a dash of Beyonce and my night was unexpectedly hard-core! Each move burned. I sat in the front of the studio for the first time maybe ever, connected with said host Steve via plenty of motivational and mortifying eye-contact, then took a self-guided tour (since the staff was less personal). Similar in price, Virgin was winning based on connection and customer journey. Fitness First had abundance and proximity to my apartment going for it. I loved VA’s proximity next door to my work. FF is, as it turns out, about twenty steps outside my front door. I'm torn.
The most fun workout experience I’ve enjoyed Down Under thus far was that which I was most likely to bail on. This past Saturday morning, after my sixth and busiest week at LinkedIn Sydney and an insufficient eight-hours of that blissful weekend sleep, I made it out of bed thanks to a FaceTime by Mom and climbed the five-minutes and three flights of elevator to my new neighbourhood gym (which I’m now sold on thanks to this class). BodyJam, named and trademarked by one of my very own health&wellness clients in Oz actually, was a choreographed cardio craze similar to Zumba meets modern-kickboxing! The best part about it was definitely the instructor’s playlist, but regardless I could not stop smiling nor reminiscing my Hong Kong evenings at “Funky Dance” and 'SC days of Zumba. I knew it was a kick-ass werkout too thanks to the sore shoulder and tight buns that night on the dance floor!
In the realm of workouts, my best track record to date has been when accompanied by my first and only personal trainer Summer, a life-changer turned life-long-friend back in SF (who had most recently hailed from Sydney when I met her). Because of her convenient integration into my SF life once she moved from Crunch to my company’s onsite wellness centre, I had admittedly NEVER done a self-led workout at home… at least not one that lasted more than ten minutes of what Claire and I like to call cat yoga. That was until NOW, however. My first ever-visitor in Sydney and SF gal pal Katie introduced me to a simple-enough Pinterest workout circuit: one with no weights, no shoes required containing nothing longer than a 30-second plank or minute-long wall-sit. Summer ensured that as long as I repeat said “twenty-minute” home workout at least three times, it’s a solid one! It’s been an amazing mechanism for taking ownership of my wellness, pushing my own limits, bulking up my Down Under playlist via Spotify’s Discover Weekly and trimming down at least by the stress-factor if nothing else.
If I had no motivation to muster and no budget for gyms, my last and best option might be our on-site bootcamp classes led by LinkedIn’s own contracted trainers. They include but are not limited to “Abs,” “Range of Motion” (which saved my sore bones today) and “Bootylicious,” all glutes and lower body if you couldn’t guess. I think I need to take advantage of these. As if I had my own trainer leading me through six or eight circuits — while surrounded by familiar faces to cheer me on while suffering themselves — they have been (all three of them that I’ve tried) my perfect combination of motivation and peer pressure! While sore today, I'm pretty stoked about these perks... I mean, look what they'll do for my hops.
When I need a break from werk, Tuesday lunches and Wednesday eves feature the loveliest of resources just a flight of stairs from my desk each week: yoga in the office taught by the elegant super-yogi Laura (who is awesome and super down-to-earth, by the way). Since my first week living in Sydney, I’ve meandered into our small wellness centre a few minutes before five o’clock to roll out a borrowed mat and stretch self-consciously. Each and every person who attends, male and female, is welcoming and supportive of each other; my first and second class, I met several bro-gis (yes, I mean male yogis) who I had already been introduced to via email months prior and now there is a clan of eight to ten who I recognise fondly each practice. From strengthening my chaturanga and up-dog to getting centimetres closer to a crow pose each week, I feel absolutely encouraged and empowered by this peaceful blessing within the walls of LinkedIn in the CBD. Thankful to my company!
Why was it that this week’s savasanas felt so particularly meditative, so opening? Perhaps, as my bff helped identify, it’s because I haven’t taken ample space — in my calendar nor mind — to simply digest everything I’ve been taking in and enduring. I reflect, I write, I make time to debrief with the ones I love… but when do I ever sit? I listen to Spotify, I try podcasts, and the other night I listened to a TED talk before bed. The only times I can think of in which I do nothing but process my memories, emotions and aspirations — most about Sydney and lots about home and the places I currently am not — is in the final minutes before sleep and after lights out, when I’m longing for peace and sometimes resort to distraction.
A friend's candid words about practicing love and kindness recently spoke to me; we don’t take enough time for that either, as social media and real media and live media (our people! our information!) fill in the space where pain or sadness might flow. I need to make time for that too. My Dad has consistently reminds me that prayer is always an option through which to practice gratitude, seek help, process my needs and realisations. My Grandma continues to remind me of the same, through a poem she gifted me that’s by my bedside and in her appearance at Palm Beach in the form of a lone and massive pelican (her favourite!): that the loneliest of times might be when God and the Universe are most forcefully carrying us and me.
This week, I also pondered for the first time (about 3/4 quarters of the way through post-vinyasa restore) that two years and then some just might not be enough to take in all that I’d like to of Sydney. In three, I barely scratched the surface of the other city that I love: SF. I wasn’t taking that place in through the same lens: in San Francisco, I was invincible, limitless, and filled with untapped potential. Here in Sydney, I feel free and ambitious and terrified…. but I also feel temporary, I realise still. Maybe that’s where my desire stems from to root and nest rather than remain a nomad (see my final paragraphs on Building my Sanctuary). Maybe that’s why my urgency to take in new knowledge and befriend everyone in sight surges through me at most hours of the day... only to exhaust me by nightfall or the weekend.
The last practice that has consistently and unconditionally helped me to reach these realisations is a brief, guided meditation courtesy of Deepak Chopra and thanks to my first friends in San Francisco — Steph and Shira — who introduced me to this noble effort. Meditation, which I can in no good faith claim that I’ve figured out, is an art form — it’s dependent on the person, it turns out differently each day, and it always tends to reveal something deeply personal (often embarrassing) and raw.
Eating with earnest
My intentions for my time in Sydney included so many previously unfathomable things: scuba diving, mastering surfing, and trying more swimming so that I could take on ocean swimming included. I also included things that didn’t seem as exotic: living in a Sydney apartment, eating more organic (see above), cooking dinner more often, and building a new wellness routine without a new trainer. I would not have guessed that learning how to pan-poach chicken breasts would be checked off my first-six-week bucket list, nor that How to Cut a Butternut Pumpkin would be an online video that I consumed in that same time span; oh, how rewarding both felt! Talk about just-in-time and bite-sized learning, quite literally.
It all began when my new flatmate asked if I wanted to join on a trip to Aldi so that we could cook dinner. I agreed, as long as by we he meant he. The first night this happened, Rup whipped up salmon fillets on the stove along with three different sets of steamed veggies — I mean, “veg” of course, according to Aussie abbrevs. I was amazed; I love sweet potato, and he made that, broccoli and asparagus magically steam simultaneously in one pan before my eyes that first night. How did I get so lucky? The second night we cooked, we settled on pre-diced veggies and seasoned peeled prawns for a lil’ stir fry. I must have been inspired, but all I know is that in my efforts to 1 build my wellness routine and 2 spend more time processing my many experiences and emotions, I found the sudden desire Monday after yoga to take a stab at cooking up my own, fresh dinner. It was an adventure in and of itself.
After shopping veggies and fish for one, then resorting to the first cooking blog I came to (thekitchn) upon Google searching “how to cook the perfect salmon fillet,” I started my process based off instinct; turned out, my gut instinct was off in all ways but one. I had laid my beautiful pink hunk [of salmon] flesh-down in a pan straight out of the shopping bag, only to then read the best practices of 1: allowing the fish to inch closer to room temp, 2: towel-drying my fillet so it wouldn’t be dripping before cooking, and 3: starting skin-down so the delicate flesh wouldn’t start out burnt. So much for trusting my “gut.” The creator and star of thekitchn’s quick and easy cooking videos soon became my best friend; she helped me know to wait until the fleshy and grill-inspired white reached at least three-fourths of the way up before I flipped! Fast-forward to nights two and three spent with her and I was in love. Chicken cutlets, brussel sprouts and freshly diced and roasted butternut are now on my recurring home-chef menu.
Tonight after publishing the initial version of this post, my roommate had to come along and reinforce all of my glory/gratitude/amazement: he suggested we grill after shopping for a bunch of our favourite veggies, some new and some repeat. We didn’t hold back: grabbed my favourites (sweet co’s and asparagus) and his that I was previously impartial to, like eggplant! This resulted in a quick and easy explosion of color once more. Our back patio’s small but mighty “barbie” was fast to light and quicker to cook; the calming process [and hopeful ritual] of washing, dicing, steaming and monitoring the grill just to sit in the springtime outdoors and enjoy our fresh meal — with enough evening to unwind and then some! — has me certain this “cooking thing” is something I need to keep at.
As the author of my second and latest novel in Sydney retells so elegantly, water has been considered the ebbing and flowing lifeblood of communities and a person’s wellbeing since the ancient Romans revered and celebrated it through their epic fountains. Supposedly, the first thing that a Roman settlement entailed was building an aqueduct to unite the people; here in Sydney, water flows in such a central manner just naturally. Thanks to the capital city’s splash-like shape and coastal location, countless harbours and beautiful bays surround every desirable neighbourhood. I’m not only embracing my inner Moana on harbour-side runs and ferry rides; public fountains appear in the loveliest of places, including but not limited to the epic botanical gardens I explored early on and the park that I cross each evening on my way home. The tap water is better than drinkable here; that and the lemon-infused water at work inspires me to stay hydrated and then some. My fun and beloved Swell water bottle, a gift from my motivator and trainer-turned-bestie back stateside, doesn’t hurt either: it’s a welcome reminder and vessel that accompanies me everywhere I go.
Aside from water and my previously-mandatory morning java, I am now a newly awakened lover of tea. After living with Claire, whose kettle and delicious loose-leaf (in combination with our manatee-shaped mana-TEA infuser) introduced me to this caffeine alternative, I began to warm up to it. However, my British and Australian neighbours in the office serve as further inspiration to experiment with new flavours and essences. One of the local tea-shops, T2 (a colourful explosion of delicious scents that could rival a Teavana and Bath & Body at once) is my new favourite escape and source of gifts (spoiler alert). Chamomile before bed? Peppermint in the mornings just after I’ve brushed my teeth? The day I learned that Creme Brûlée was a tea flavour was the day that I realised I’m tea-tering on the edge of addiction. Sorry (that I’m not sorry) for the bad pun.
Finally, coffee is a staple delicacy of Australia and one central part of the workday culture that I will never complain about. Who said I couldn’t drink tea and still enjoy my daily flat white? I’ve mentioned (perhaps numerous times) the unconditionally friendly face I find daily in Phil, my Philz replacement and new local barista; it seems that each and every shop-owner or barista that I meet is both kind and expedient, willing to give me a recommendations or explain once again the different between a flat white, a good ol’ latte and a simple cappuccino. These debates never get old. Below is an example of my favourite flat white yet: it’s accompanied by a smile and a tiny chocolate wafer cookie each time, courtesy of The Two Good Eggs cafe located below my apartment.
Building my sanctuary
One of the most pivotal factors that has lent to my comfort, rejuvenation, and degree to which I feel settled and at peace here is the place at which I feel most at home: my new home in Darlinghurst, Sydney, Australia, Planet Earth. While it’s evolved from shell to IKEA-clad starter-room in my first few weeks, I knew it had potential the first day I saw it: the afternoon sunlight shone in through its floor-to-ceiling windows and illuminated the almond-colored carpet, bordered and guarded stylishly by exposed brick in the shape of tiny staircases to heaven on either side. As I alluded above, my six-week anniversary culminated in a delicious salad and cider in front of both the Opera House and Harbour Bridge with my latest purchases tucked beneath my high-top table: two new pillows, two gorgeous more-decorative plushes, and a vibrant patterned quilt cover that encapsulates all the colours I love, styles I aspire to and travels I’m set on: Eastern meccas meet tropical paradises. I couldn’t love it more and it was worth the wait for the perfect design.
The perks of living with a flatmate have included not only the delicious home-cooked meals but also the affordability of a modern, sexy pad with high-ceiling and all the modern luxuries an expat world-traveler could hope for. Rup instantly made me feel at home and as though what’s-his-is-mine, thanks to his generous manner and cozy couches, chaise lounge ottoman in the living room and [newly] two plush blankets that he deemed must-have. I knew we had more in common than our passion for world-travel; he also loves home as much as I do. Our patio is quaint and urban, overlooking the industrial and gentrified block filled with warehouses-turned-highrises and eateries featuring an array of cultures. My room is both filling up, softening and evening out: it has a new and simplistic vibe thanks to my newness and scarcity of things; it also has touches of my sentimental collector’s way, thanks to my dresser's glass-top (which shades the bright smiles of my comrades from “back home” in photographs) and my new string lights that feature photo-clips for my assortment of Polaroids!
After investing today in my first-ever set of luxury bedding and pillows, I’m beginning to feel a tingle of that new and adult cross-roads approaching once again. Pillow and pics aside, I’m designing not just my sanctuary, but the lifestyle that will shape my time and rest spent in Sydney. In seeking to refine a new wellness routine, maybe I’m hoping to create an internal landscape — poised though ever-changing and adaptable for optimal wellbeing — to accompany this glorious landscape around me of history, culture, city and sea.
What the experiences of the last few weeks and few nights in particular have shown me is that becoming in tune with my mind-body-spirit relationship may be key to realising my best health, my best mindset and my peak physical condition but also my truest safety, my optimal community and the "best shape of my life" (as I so nobly aspired to only two years ago, pre-marathon). If nothing else, it’s the most certain place to start in my pursuit of my *best life.* I may not know yet whether I’ll swim a race or try a tri, live around Sydney or live in Surry forever; all I can know are the fears I’d like to face, the spaces and friendships that summon me, and the opportunities and abundance that are surrounding me in this one-of-a-kind ecosystem on the other under side of the known world. I’m in Oz alright, and it turns out there’s no wizard here either. I think namaste in Sydney for a while.
A broad down under