Slackline: The art of balanced meditation

For someone as impatient as me, learning to stand (and eventually walk) on a slackline is a pretty frustrating experience, but it is an invaluable lesson in patience, which I so badly lack.

Read my latest post: Lessons in being patient

I’ve always wanted to try out slacklining, but between climbing, work events, and attempting to still see my non-climbing friends, I’ve found it hard to find the time for it. Now that I’m injured seemed like the perfect time to give it a shot.

So on a Sunday my friends and I took advantage of the nice weather and took the slackline out for a day in East London’s Victoria park (along with a hula hoop for good measure).

My aerial circus instructor always talks about the importance of lines in aerial dance, and watching your form to create a beautiful shape on the equipment of your choice. I’m bad at that, so she would constantly shout at me to “point the toes!!” (love you for that, Astra!).

Slacklining requires a similar kind of elegance, where the body traces a line between the crown of your head and the foot that is holding your weight to make it easier to balance.

My friend Tamsin showing off her skills

To be honest, I thought I would just be able to stand on it on my first attempt, no problems. I was quickly proven wrong. Maintaining balance on a slackline is surprisingly hard! I suppose I should have known, considering my wobbly attempts to do one-legged balances in yoga.

If you’re good at balance in yoga, you will pick it up really quickly.  Apparently two hours is all you need to learn to stand on your own. Then it’s practice, practice, practice.

And guess what that means? Patience.

I’m learning patience, and I reckon I’ve been quite a good student so far.

When I look at the slackline, everything inside me is screaming: “I want to walk on this damn thing already!!” But when I push my body upwards with my foot, the concentration and focus needed to stay on the line overshadow all my frustrations and impatience.

It’s like meditation. The surrounding actions and noises just sort of disappear as I focus my eyes on tree branches in my line of vision and try to relax into the balance. The moment the slackline stops fluttering wildly under my foot and stays still is when I know I’m finally in control.

But the moment never last long enough. A millimetre shift in either direction, and I’m back to flailing my arms around wildly just to stay on the line.

Prolonging those moments of inner and outer calm is worth learning to be patient for, though.

If you’re interested in giving this a try, you can get your own slackline for just over £40 and it is pretty user-friendly. The only caveat is that it is prohibited in any Royal parks in London, so that rules out anywhere central.

NOTE: My friend Tamsin (whose picture I have shamelessly stolen for this blog post) is looking into giving lessons for a small fee, so this would be a good place to start.

Details to follow. Comment on this post to register your interest.

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Lessons in being patient

“I really shouldn’t be doing this!” I thought, while hanging upside down in a tunnel and trying to push my foot into the next black foothold for balance, as a searing pain shot up my right side, again.

Sometimes, injuries happen by accident or as an unfortunate consequence of doing something inherently correct and safe, but more often than not they are exacerbated by impatience.

Impatience that stops us from warming up before jumping on a difficult or technical climb; impatience that drives us to the pub half an hour early after a day of climbing outdoors, instead of stretching; impatience that brought me to the climbing gym on a Tuesday night after a weekend of climbing, when I already knew I had an injury.

“The bad news is, intercostal muscle strains often take many, many weeks to heal completely. Best case scenario is complete recovery in about three weeks. Worst case is 6 months.”

That was not what I wanted to read the day after, as I sat in my office chair, desperately trying to come to terms with the fact that there is no quick fix for this injury, while I found out what an intercostal muscle actually is.

The most frustrating thing about it is that it didn’t seem anywhere near this bad when I did it. A few twisty moves on the sandstone rocks down at Harrison’s made my right side feel distinctly sore, but it didn’t feel like anything a good stretch couldn’t fix. I made sure I didn’t skip the stretching that evening, and even (owing to circumstances, more than prudence) took the week off climbing.

I didn’t even think about that muscle the following weekend, the next time I went for a climb. But for the whole day it felt like I was walking a fine line between performance and injury, and any twisting move made me wince in pain.

Why on earth did I then go climbing again on Sunday, and again on Tuesday, you ask?

Because I have no patience.

At least I got some new climbing shoes that day. Which I can’t break in, because I can’t climb now.

But I can try and learn to be patient.

5.10 Anasazi
5.10 Anasazi

My excuses for neglecting this blog

I am ashamed to say that time and time again over the past few weeks (months…?) I have chosen to neglect this blog, despite my best intentions to dedicate some time to it. I confess, I have been choosing the great, or even slightly mediocre, outdoors over sitting at home and writing…every single time.

This being a blog about adventure, I suppose it stands to reason that adventure would come top of my priority list, but it is, of course, totally inexcusable to ignore this project, and I will make every effort to change (famous last words…?).

Anyway, this is not going to be one of those “10 things to do outdoors” kinds of entries.

Partly because what has been putting me off writing more on here is the feeling I would have to put a huge amount of research into my next article to make sure there is lots of useful content, and partly following a conversation with a friend, who very rightly told me to make my writing more personal.

So what have I been doing with my time instead of sitting here coming up with adventure ideas??

Well….I have been out adventuring, of course!

As you know, I’m a massive advocate of finding adventures everywhere, and I have decided that this summer I won’t let the fact that I live in London deter me from going out there and making every minute of my free time count.

And of course, having got the climbing bug, I’m in that honeymoon phase where *all* I want to do is climb (out in the sunshine, of course!).

Understandably, most people think I’m mental. My mother called me last night saying she was worried I was losing it a bit. Ok, she thinks I’m losing it big time! She is consoling herself by thinking it is just phase, and will soon pass. (Little does she know….)

So with this in mind, it isn’t too surprising that I have been spending all my weekends climbing, and now that we finally have a summer, this has taken me out into the nearby countryside, laden with a massive rucksack stuffed with a sleeping bag, tent and mountains of food to keep energy levels up on the rocks.

I never feel happier than when I’m setting up a tent for a weekend away from buildings and traffic. No computers, barely any reception, fresh air, trees…pure bliss!

And it isn’t even hard to find this bliss within easy reach of central London: take a train from London Bridge to Eridge, walk for 20 mins – and voila, we are at the climbing crag, surrounded by trees and rocks, and climbers. I struggle to think of a better way to spend my time off work!

The downside of this lifestyle is that my flat is a mess, because I haven’t physically been in it for any meaningful amount of time for weeks. My tent is also a mess, because I haven’t had a chance to wash it, or even give it a good shake to get rid of all the (now dead) insects.

Apart from that, all my friends and family who aren’t obsessed with scaling rocks are getting slightly (or extremely) frustrated, because I’m always unavailable, and often completely out of reach. Or too tired to go out and do anything else. And even when I do, I keep talking about climbing…

I am completely aware of all this, but I just can’t help choosing the outdoors over anything that London has to offer this summer. I guess this is my open admission that I have had enough of the city.

I still love London. This isn’t a break up, it’s just my attempt to find a balance that works for me. It’s when the winter arrives that I’ll really struggle!