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Ever since I was young, my parents encouraged us to take up hobbies. Being quite traditional Asian parents, these hobbies included reading, playing piano, swimming and table tennis. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to appreciate the importance of hobbies and the value that they can bring to our lives. Over recent years, I’ve dabbled in a number of additional hobbies, including painting, martial arts, yoga and most recently dancing, all of which have added tremendous value to my life. Whilst (almost) everyone needs to study or work in order to sustain themselves, what they choose to do in their spare time often provides a lot of insight into their personality and internal workings – are they the creative type? Do they thrive on competition? Are they disciplined? Are they extroverted; do they enjoy interactive activities more than alone time?

There is no singular hobby that I’ve come across as superior to all other activities, as each one provides a different experience, and will attract people differently. There are countless hobbies that one can take up, some requiring more time and commitment than others. Below are some examples of the hobbies I’ve accumulated and what they have taught me (hobbies being activities that I choose to take up for my own personal pleasure, not to further my career or volunteering which I’ll cover in another blog).

  1. Playing piano – teaches discipline, focus, and confidence, as well as creativity. Learning and playing a musical instrument requires using both parts of the brain (the logic side for practise, counting beats, learning theory and understanding the music), and the creative side for self-expression. In order to play and perform an instrument well, it takes years of self-discipline and motivation (hours of practise), however the end result is that eventually you are able to connect with your own creativity as well as with other people often on a different level to what is ordinarily achieved through words.

2. Reading – enhances imaginative thinking. Before the advent of television, we had to envisage and play out novels within our own heads to bring a story to life. We imagined characters to have certain physiques, and environments to have particular nuances; which is why when we see a movie made from a novel we’ve read, we’re often not satisfied because a movie translation is not able to capture the story in the same way that we have created within our own vivid imaginations.

3. Painting and drawing – allows full creative self-expression. On a blank canvas, we can create whatever we like, whether from an existing image or one completely arbitrary from our own mind. All humans want to feel heard and connected, and sometimes when we’re unable to do so, we may have built up emotions which can be released through creative outlets. Sometimes we’re not even aware of what emotions we’ve buried, or what our minds are telling us (think abstract art). Other times we may be overflowing with feelings, and once again need an avenue to re-balance ourselves. Or we may simply need to meditate and be in a place of neutrality.

4. Swimming, walking or other physical activity – needless to say, physical activity allows us to feel good about our physical bodies, whilst releasing endorphins.

5. Martial arts – in addition to physical health, martial arts can also teach us about resilience, focus, and the art of moving with life. One of the reasons why I chose to take up aikido and Brazilian jiujitsu for a number of years, was the lessons they taught on moving around obstacles and using them to your advantage (e.g. using a larger opponent’s weight against themselves; not fighting against the current but with it) which could be applied to a life philosophy.

6. Yoga – the importance of breathing and mindfulness. The importance of reconnecting with our bodies and ourselves in each moment, and when faced with challenges – to continue breathing.

7. Cooking – creativity and connection. This connection is both with ourselves (with food and nutrients being an essential part of our wellbeing), but also with others  – food and mealtimes being a way to meaningfully connect with our friends and family. So many of life’s milestones are celebrated or commiserated in the presence of food.

8. Gardening – patience, creativity and the miracle of life. I admit this particular hobby has fallen by the wayside a little recently, but in the absence of having to nurture other living beings (pets or children), there’s something extremely gratifying about planting a seed and then watching in wonder as it blooms (or fruits!) several months later.

9. Dance – self-expression, focus, confidence and connection. Dancing allows us to connect with ourselves and move our bodies freely, whilst the social aspect of partner dancing brings us a connection to others. As we continue to attend classes, improve our dancing and perform for others, there is also a level of focus and dedication required.

Most hobbies, and certainly all those above, allow me to express my own creativity and connect more with myself – supporting my own journey on mindfulness and leading an authentic life. The beauty of hobbies is that the list is endless, and you can find a hobby to suit any number of personalities or intentions, whether the goal is to become fitter, more patient, enjoy more time at home on your own or make new friends. Generally speaking, you can also continue your hobbies through life or take up new ones when you’re bored of your old ones, and it’s also never too late to start learning. So if you’ve been thinking about taking up a hobby (esp. everyone who’s been telling me how they wish to start playing an instrument) – now is the time to start!

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