Damian Chapparo, pictured in the yoga studio of Aro Ha, the Glenorchy luxury wellness retreat he founded. Photo / Supplied
Aro Ha founder Damian Chapparo spent two weeks in MIQ after returning to New Zealand from America. He shares the mindful practices that helped him through the experience – things that can help those of us still stuck in lockdown, or can be incorporated into our every day even when life returns to ‘normal’.
Have you ever wondered why monks and mystics deprive themselves of creature comforts? Why would they withdraw into caves, speak to no one and fast for days? For most of us it’s the opposite of what we are working so hard to do in our lives. We imagine that if we could just achieve enough in all the areas of our lives, then we could finally be happy.
Open the latest luxury travel magazine and you’ll see what we most aspire to; beautiful stories of exceptional comfort, delicious abundance, exotic adventure and supreme beauty. Even Aro Ha appeals to some of these same desires, and yet it’s what we offer beneath the surface – the foundations of wellbeing – that are truly of value.
These days, as New Zealand makes its way out of a wave of lockdowns, when many of us are feeling more restricted, deprived, or unsure, it seems particularly appropriate to learn from the wise, who chose to lock themselves down.
In 2002 I joined my mother and sister at a small retreat centre in Sarasota Florida, for my first silent meditation retreat. For two excruciating days, my 21-year-old self sat in a room, and engaged in mostly nothing. No talking, just sitting, and a bit of chanting. It was a supreme challenge to just stay in the room. However, at the end, something was different. I felt more peaceful. I had listened to the ramblings of my anxious mind. It was the beginning of making friends with the voice in my head. I didn’t know it then, but I was starting to walk down a road that many had walked before me, and anyone can follow today. The punchline is this: you are the only one in there, and you are much more powerful than you realise. What do I mean by powerful?
Sometimes people say things like, “I would die without my coffee!” Don’t we believe it, when we think it? Yet, what if it wasn’t true? What if I was not what I think? What if I was the part that listened. This simple observation is the beginning of a kind of freedom that no jail cell can contain.
Imagine now that you were sitting in quarantine, like I was recently. Imagine that when friends asked how you’re doing, you thought, “This has been the most incredible vacation. Lots of focused quality time, laundry service, a wellness team, heaps of time to exercise, free internet, three meals a day delivered, and no dishes!”
Now imagine another version of yourself, equal in all other ways, except you have the belief, “This shouldn’t be happening. How dare they take away my freedom. This is inhumane. I wish I didn’t have to do this.” The difference is heaven and hell. I’m not suggesting we fake it, I’m suggesting we inquire into what’s true, and let go of what doesn’t serve us.
So let me share with you some habits that helped make quarantine epic. I decided I was going to use my time to thrive. The goal was to feel even better after quarantine. It worked, and below are the pillars of practice that anyone can use.
Sweat every day. Elevate your heart rate. Feel your muscles burn through intelligent functional movement. Your body, mind and mood love it.
In quarantine I had no special equipment. I used a towel on the floor as a yoga mat, I used a chair, a bed, and YouTube as an instructor. I chose to schedule two short workouts before lunch and dinner. Just 15 to 75 minutes, every day. I practised yoga, HIIT (high intensity interval training), animal movement, pilates and calisthenics.
Modify your searches by using keywords such as “beginner”, or “for back pain”, depending on what you’re after. In general, spend time taking care of your physical body.
Sharpen the axe
We use our brains all day long, but how often do you sharpen the tool? I don’t mean learning how to make more money, or planning a post lockdown vacation. I mean learning about the mind and its pitfalls. Mindfulness or meditation is the cornerstone practice for learning about what you aren’t.
In quarantine, I listened to talks by Sam Harris, Michael Singer, Eckhart Tolle, and Mooji. I listened to incredible podcasts like On Being, Making Sense, and Sounds True.
Options for elevating our minds are plentiful, high-quality, and low-cost. We can now study at the world’s finest educational institutions for next to nothing. If you like evidence-based wellbeing, try The Science of Well-Being from Yale University on Coursera. You won’t regret this time spent. It will likely change your life.
Food can be medicine or a menace. Everything we eat and drink sits on a continuum. On one end we have poisons and toxins that slip into our food production and on the other end, we have the building blocks of optimal health. What we choose to put in our mouths affects our energy, our mood, and ultimately the function of every cell in the body.
The best advice I’ve found in 20 years is eat mostly plants, nuts and seeds, freshly prepared, and as close to their whole and natural state as possible.
The easiest way to improve diet for most people is to look for the thing that you know makes you feel the worst. For some it would be alcohol, for others sugar. Notice what leaves you feeling flat vs fantastic. Make one big change at a time, and stick to it.
While in quarantine I asked to be gluten-free and I skipped desserts. I drank nothing but tea and New Zealand’s incredible clean water. It worked. I felt great.
Our screens are arguably the most useful, yet disruptive, thing to affect our lives since the advent of the lightbulb. The science is clear, increased screen time is associated with increased disorders in sleep, relationships, mood, physiology, and more.
Here is the best tip I can give you. Set a timer, and don’t let yourself use a screen for more than 30 minutes at a time. Get up. Stretch. Put your legs up a wall and rest. Look outside. Listen to music, and dance! Do anything but sit hour after hour. It’s a recipe for feeling awful.
I use BeFocused, which is an app based on the Pomodoro technique, to keep my screen time focused and balanced. I love InsightTimer for meditation, and you can meditate with me there.
Everything I’ve described above can be free or low-cost to change. If the above sounds great, but you often create a plan for yourself yet fail to follow through, start with one commitment at a time. Make it measurable and possible. Give it everything. Stick with it, no matter what.
Spend some time looking into the psychology of change. It’s fascinating and motivating. Essentially we need to break the habit of being ourselves, and we can.
For me, it’s far from effortless to change my habits. I crave things. I feel resistance to nearly all of it. However, for me, the equation is clear. I’ve tried the other way. It doesn’t feel good. You are so much more than you realise, and you are not what you think. The way I see it, everything I want is just one good decision away, and it’s only the very next decision I need to make.
Aro Ha is a luxury wellness retreat in Glenorchy, with a range of dates available throughout the rest of this year and next. Go to aro-ha.com for more information and to reserve your spot.