The morning sun tentatively pokes through grey clouds as I bob along Regent’s Canal.
I’m noticing the purple, red, yellow, and blue paintwork on the boats, more vividly than normal, as though the colours are singing at me.
And then there’s the light reflecting off of the water. I breathe in, and out, and everything for a moment is fine. There’s nowhere to be, and nothing to do. What a rare occurrence.
This is how the day starts when you sign up for the city’s latest wellness experience, a mental health ‘power hour’ hosted by a psychologist on a boat.
The cruises are taking place on canals in London and Birmingham via GoBoats, designed to help city dwellers unwind before they start the working day.
Early risers can join the first cruise of the morning at 5.30am, but I’ve opted for the last session available, at the far more civilized time of 8am.
Our boat driver, a cheery Scotsman named John, is as relaxed as anything, as Dr Audrey Tang, the author of books on mindfulness, starts by getting us centred.
She encourages us to connect to our minds and bodies through saying ‘Om’ and focusing on how the vibration feels in the throat and on the lips.
We then complete a body scan, noticing each of our limbs, before focussing on the surrounding colours, sounds and smells around us along the water.
The idea is to produce more of the GABA hormone – one that is seldom spoken of – which is linked to feeling calm.
We then get in touch with our chakras for grounding – something that may cause those not into ‘woo woo’-style wellness to flinch, at first. However, Dr Audrey takes everything back to a scientific standpoint, so even if it isn’t your usual bag, there’s something to gain from it.
Gradually, I’m feeling more relaxed, but this wasn’t easy at first.
While discussing simple tips to make the work day easier, I ask Dr Audrey if it’s possible to consciously switch off. Isn’t that counter-intuitive?
‘It’s our thoughts coming in as soon as we try to release our grip on the world,’ she explains.
She recommends a technique often used by mental health professionals with patients at crisis level, called 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.
‘Connect with five things you can see – name them and call them out – then four things you can hear, three things you can touch, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste,’ she says.
‘That gets you out of your head and out of overthinking.’
It works, and I find myself more present in the moment.
While phones aren’t allowed on the first half of the trip, on the way back you can take advantage of the photo ops – so this one is good for your mind and your IG grid.
The way back is about ‘reenergising’, which Dr Audrey says is just as important as winding down. Wellness isn’t just about being still and quiet, it’s also about how we live in moments of activity, too.
It’s vital we take the time in the morning to do some of these kinds of activities, says Dr Audrey.
‘It’s a great time to connect with ourselves before other people wake up,’ she tells us. ‘In that state of just waking up, it’s a good time to get creative and think of ways in which you yourself want to flourish – without intrusions.’
She believes it’s easy to ‘waste’ that time, when we’re rushing around and doomscrolling.
She also shares how studies have shown we only get about six productive hours in a whole day on average, so using the morning for ourselves can help set us up better.
You get all this insight for only a tenner, and then it’s time to get off the boat and go to work.
Interestingly, even though I know I’ll have 100 emails waiting for me when I arrive, I start the day way calmer than normal.
I’ve avoided my usual horrendous commute in due to the location of the boat, which is a bonus that surely helped, but I do go into work that day having spent the morning focusing on my breathing and state of mind – rather than what I usually do, which is to scroll on my phone and prise my eyes open.
You can’t expect to suddenly be a new person free of worry after one crash course in common wellness techniques, but you will leave lighter and carry a slightly calmer energy to work.
As the day goes on, I keep a handle on my stress levels and even at one point in the afternoon give myself a hug – something Dr Audrey recommended as a quick way to get grounded.
Dr Audrey has some genuinely nuanced tips to share, such as her work on reenergising and her flagging the importance of the GABA hormone, so to speak to her alone makes the trip a fascinating experience.
Ready to give it a go? We’ll see you on the boat.
Happening on Wednesday 26 April in Canary Wharf then again the following week in Birmingham, GoBoat is hosting wellness trips between 5-9am. You can book here.
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