THINK of what you know about the excitable, animated and spirited Heath Shaw.
Now picture this. An intense five-day meditation retreat in Byron Bay, in which the program consisted of doing exactly what Shaw has struggled do for his entire life. Sitting still and staying silent.
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At the conclusion of a 2019 season where Shaw had played in every game as the Giants qualified for their maiden Grand Final appearance, coach Leon Cameron had an idea to help refresh and reinvigorate his veteran 34-year-old defender.
It involved a trip to one of the retreats of the club's highly respected mindfulness coach, Gary Gorrow, in Byron Bay in mid-November.
Shaw was intrigued by the prospect. He had developed a close bond with Gorrow during his time at the Giants, chatting to him before and after matches in an effort to help his busy mind 'switch off' from football.
He just didn't really know what to expect from his retreat. Until he got the schedule.
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Twelve poses and stretches similar to yoga, which are repeated three times over a period that lasts 40 minutes. Twenty minutes of meditation followed that. There was four minutes of technical breathing exercises, then six minutes of lying flat on your back to finish.
That made up a practice called 'rounding', which in total takes about an hour and 10 minutes. However, each 'round' was repeated three times in the morning, then three times in the afternoon. For five straight days.
"I was hoping there would be a bit of meditation, a few massages and a lot of relaxing time by the pool, but it was a lot different to that," Shaw told AFL.com.au.
"To be honest, I got through day one and I didn't know how I was going to get through day two. But it got easier and easier as the days went on.
"I wasn't allowed to do any exercise in between that, in terms of running and weights. He totally banned that. There was no coffee, no alcohol … you had to eat very clean, vegan food for those five days.
"I was going from one extreme to the other, having had a fair go over my off-season. I'd gone from eating burgers and drinking a bit too much, to a full-blown health retreat. It was two opposite ends of the spectrum."
Completely silent throughout each 'round', the only time for talking came at communal lunches and dinners. A brief chat, where the guests of the retreat told of their own unique stories that brought them there, drew a close to each day.
Communication with the outside world was also limited. It was highly recommended that phones, laptops and smart devices were left at home. Shaw still brought his mobile, but purely for emergencies – and to check sport results.
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"There were a few bushfires around, so the only time I looked at my phone was just before dinner to seriously check whether the fires were close to the retreat," Shaw said.
"One of the guys didn't have his phone at all, so he asked me whether I could see who won the Paul Gallen – Barry Hall fight.
"But I wasn't texting anyone, I wasn't calling anyone, I just checked my phone for emergencies.
"Everyone knew where I was for that five days and I told them that I probably wouldn't answer any of their calls, so that was easily done. But if anyone needed to contact me, they could."
The retreat would mark the start of Shaw's 17th AFL pre-season. While they haven't got any easier over time, this one certainly provided a unique challenge compared to the rest of them.
"For someone whose mind goes at a million miles an hour around footy and around everything, it gave me a little bit of a release and a little bit of mental downtime," Shaw said.
"Last year was a fairly long season and it was mentally and physically taxing for me. I played every game coming off a knee and I went through the highs and lows, as the team did.
"Getting to my age, one of the biggest battles isn't the physical side of things. It's more the mental side of it, getting yourself up each week. It was something a bit different, but I really enjoyed it."
Not only did the retreat prepare Shaw for what he expected to be another tough AFL season, but it has also ensured he's ready for the unexpected. That being the game's suspension through until at least May 31 due to the global COVID-19 outbreak.
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"The restrictions around being physically inside – for a guy with A.D.D. (Attention Deficit Disorder) – it's not ideal," Shaw said.
"The combination of the A.D.D. with the meditation, it helps with that part as well and it helps me keep on top of it when I do get on a bit of an A.D.D. freak out.
"Gary's ultimate guide is two 20-minute meditations a day. Sometimes I find it hard to get time to do that – I know that sounds stupid in a full day to find two 20-minute blocks – but I've stepped that up since I've had a bit more spare time of late.
"The whole point of meditation is to not think about what's going on in the world. To have 40 minutes a day of that right now is good."