Run Tan: Physically Empty. Mindful

Bodies shivered with early-winter chill and pre-race nerves. Magnificent mullets were as abundant as the centuries-old Oak trees. An acoustic cover of David Bowie floated through the air. And the winter sun shone brighter than the rainbow-coloured activewear on display.

It was Sunday 24 April, the morning of the annual and iconic Run The Tan event. And this year, Swinburne proudly sponsored the event. But, we did more than just flash our logo on some signage. Instead, we created an immersive (and spectacularly serene) Recovery Space that used technology to improve mental health.

From the Botanical Gardens to the Otways at the flick of a switch

At our Swinburne Recovery Space, exhausted runners could come and flop on a beanbag, pop on an Oculus Quest VR headset and transport their hot and sweaty bodies to the cool and serene environment of Victoria’s Otway National Park – all without even taking a step.

Place 360 filming for the mindfulness app - a camera with multiple lenses on a tripod next to a waterfall in The Otways

The 360-degree camera in action at the Otways. It is capturing the immersive VR mindfulness experience of place.

place, an immersive VR mindfulness experience created by Swinburne’s Mental Health Online, was developed and tested by a team of researchers, psychologists and VR developers. It offered users a series of 15-minute mindfulness experiences that featured 360-degree footage of rainforest, including flowing water, birdsong and leaves moving in the wind, and guided audio meditation.  

Taking the pressure out of performance

One Run the Tan celebrity competitor (who, it should be known, is a very humble character who was none too comfortable about his ‘celebrity’ status) was former Richmond premiership defender and Swinburne Bachelor of Psychological Sciences student, David Astbury.

David’s AFL career highlights as a Tiger were plentiful. Now, he is turning his high performance mindset to helping others.

As someone who’s experienced his fair share of adversity (we’re talking 15 surgeries and a Stingray barb to the foot), David is incredibly passionate about psychology and mindfulness. He’s strikingly self-aware, open about his vulnerabilities and is in possession of an excellent sense of humour. He’s exactly the kind of person you’d feel comfortable opening up to and being mentored by.

Swinburne’s VR mindfulness experience blew him out of the water. “It’s the first time I’ve ever used a VR headset. It’s incredible. How they created that experience amazes me. I really did feel like I was transported to another place and it helped me block out my surroundings – which, with all the music and race calls going on, were pretty distracting, I’ve got to admit,” says David.

David Astbury in the Swinburne Recovery Space using a VR headset

David’s country roots mean he likes to ground himself in nature. Swinburne’s place app helped him feel calm even though he was in the midst of a busy sporting event.

“We live in a highly distracted society and world. It’s not natural to be calm when performing, or when your attention is jumping from stimuli to stimuli,” says David.

David grew up in Tatyoon. A regional Victorian town with a whopping population of 130. He knows how restorative it is to escape from the hyperactivity of the city in favour of wide open skies.

“Being from the country I do love to ground myself in nature – whether that be in the ocean, the bush or anywhere primal. Seeing nature in the headset did have a calming effect on me.”

Through his psychology studies at Swinburne, David is particularly interested in bringing more professionalism and scientific rigour to performance coaching, as well as helping others experiencing moments of major transition in their lives.

As someone who retired from the world of professional football at the age of just 30 last year, David has the lived experience of knowing how such transitions can wreak havoc with your sense of self. He’s also helping others, including Year 11 and 12 students, through his work with Emma Murray at High Performance Mindfulness.

Swinburne psychology student and former Richmond premiership defender, David Astbury chats with the Principal and some students from Phoenix P-12 Community College.

David is using his experience and knowledge to help him to empower others to see their potential. Here, he chats with the Principal and some students from Phoenix P-12 Community College. He is one of many Richmond players with a Swinburne study connection. (Read Richmond AFLW player Ellie McKenzie’s advice for kicking life goals.)

“Fundamentally, I just want people to learn parts of what I’ve been so fortunate to learn. With Emma Murray and the resources of the Richmond Football Club I’ve been incredibly blessed to have learned so much about my own mindset,” says David.

But learning about your own mindset takes time.

“It took until I was 26 or so to understand my own mindset. So, I’m really excited to teach some aspects of it to individuals and groups who are younger, and in their formative years.”

In many ways, even though David is still a student, he’s already found his dream job – helping others hold their focus and attention on the things that they’re good at. And Swinburne’s flexible approach to study has helped with that.

“The highlight is probably those little ‘ah ha’ moments when I can make sense of some of the theory by relating it to my own lived experiences.”

Walk, don’t run

As an athlete, David knows that being physical is a form of self-expression. So, he starts every day with a few hours of exercise. He also practices daily mindfulness. For David, that means putting on some very chill music and acknowledging his thoughts and concerns – and then gently sending them on their way.

He likes to journal, too. “It helps me get things out of my head.” And, after AFL, he’s taken up surfing. “I’m not very good at it. But it’s another form of physical expression, it’s something new to learn, and I also get to reap the mental, and physical, health benefits of being immersed in salt water.”

David Astbury walks through the finish line of Run the Tan

David is recovering from foot surgery, so he proudly gave the ‘why walk when you run?’ narrative the flip and calmly cruised the Run The Tan track. Besides, he’s already done more time trials around that track than most of us would clock up in a lifetime (and at about twice the pace, too).

These days, David’s not chasing a Sherrin. In fact he’s not chasing anything. Instead, he’s more about the journey than the destination. And that’s a pretty swell place to be.

“Right now I’m exactly where I want to be. I’m enormously grateful.”

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