Learning to stay still

London: Fidgeting burns 10 times as many calories as jogging or going to the gym three times a week. I am reminded of this landmark finding every time someone questions my apparently sedentary lifestyle, which involves lots of eating, no exercise and yet I am not morbidly obese. I like to be moving, doing things, seeing things.

Bus travel in Guatemala

All of which makes my recent transition from travelling the world to working from home in London difficult. To add injury to insult, I’ve put my back out and so for the last few days I have been restricted to lying prone in the sitting room – fidgeting may hold back the blubber, but it doesn’t keep you fit or strong.

Bangladeshi bus

In fact, my level of physical activity has hardly changed; even when we were travelling long distances each day, it mainly involved sitting in a bus seat. But I am having to adapt to a big change in the amount of external stimulation. Travelling can involve an overwhelming assault on the senses and even when it’s boring, hard work and exhausting, there’s always something to look at, smell or hear.

Waiting at a bus stop in Rwanda

By contrast, my front room remains the same hour after hour. There are no new noises or smells (fortunately), which means that I’ve been forced to find my own entertainment – something I haven’t had to do in the past 2 years, in which I’ve struggled instead to eliminate stimuli, to shut a door on the crazy developing world and achieve peace and quiet. Even the colours are muted here: the bright startling reds and yellows have been replaced by a watered down palette of blues and greys.

Inside the bus, Venezuela

I have still to get used to the amount of stuff we have. I’ve gone from living out of a backpack, which held a couple of changes of clothes and a few other necessities, but variety and knick knacks were lacking. Now, I have far more clothes than I remember, enough to fill a wardrobe and chest of drawers, pair upon pair of shoes, shelves bursting with books, stacks of cds, a radio and a telly. But perhaps more importantly, without the demands of the outside world, I have time to be idle – to daydream.

Boat travel along the Amazon river, Brazil

I have had to readjust my ‘stimuluostat’, so that now I am starting to notice more subtle changes, like a cat passing the back wall or the way the blinds filter the afternoon sun and fan it onto the golden pine floor. And I’m loving the control I have over how much excitement I want. I can easily spend a day speaking to no one, or I can call friends, meet people I actually choose to spend time with or lose myself in a book. Or I can just stare at the sun on the floor and daydream myself to wherever I fancy.

London buses

So even though my big world has been reduced to a few square metres, I’ve found a new way of travelling, perhaps like the jogger who instead takes up fidgeting.

4 thoughts

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