Mel Bala on fitness, mental health, sisterhood and her holiday plans

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Mel Bala has remained on top of her game for over two decades and continues to inspire, while keeping us on our toes with her yummy mummy act.

We caught up with the national treasure to hear how she maintains a balance in her busy life, and how she plans on spending her holidays.

Why is it important for women to invest in their body and physical health, and how do you understand the connection between your body and your mind?

We often take our health for granted, and as the years have gone by, it really has sunk in that this is the only body I have and so I need to take care of it.

I invest in my health because I want to live a long and active life for, and with my children – whether its hiking, swimming with them in the ocean, dancing around the house, or jumping on trampolines. Being in good physical condition allows me to do that, and to create memories with them.

The physical body is very often a mirror of what’s going on in your mind – and so the two have to work together and be ‘in sync’. If you’re battling with your mental health, in whatever way, neglecting your body is often the first outward sign.

Directing your energy towards a physical activity, whatever that is for you, can take you out of your negative headspace and allow you to focus on the exercise, and in turn when you’ve done that, you’ll often find that you gain clarity or peace or understanding of where you’re at.

You’ve spoken many times about being open when it comes to suffering from mental health issues. Why do you believe that it’s important for women to open up about their experiences? 

I think one of the worst tricks that mental health challenges play on you, is making you think that you’re all alone in whatever you’re going through. And so in speaking up and sharing your experience, it’s a way to let other women know that you’re not alone.

I’ve been there, I’ve felt that way – and with working at it, I’ve made it through and so can you. I love the expression, ‘You’ve been given this mountain, to show others it can be moved’. If one thing I say resonates with someone, then that’s enough for me.

I also speak up to destigmatize it – mental health challenges can affect anyone: rich or poor, male or female, young or old, famous or not.

You recently participated in the 5th episode of the Bernini Squadcast Series.  What nuggets of wisdom can you share with our readers from this episode that can help boost their confidence and empower them? 

I loved being a part of the Squadcast Series for so many reasons – to sit and chat with women who are younger than I am is always interesting, and it was inspiring to see how Leddi (Naledi Radebe), Ms Cosmo and Khutso are so driven and clever and insightful.

The theme of the episode was Balance, and what came through strongly was that perfect balance is not always achievable. You do the best you can, sometimes certain areas of your life will demand more attention than others, and that’s okay. The episode – episode 5 - is easily available on Spotify.

You’ve had your fair share of challenges in life.  Who are the women in your life you turn to for support?

It’s so important to have a circle of women around you – the ones who hold you up, carry your load when you can’t, laugh, cry or just sit with you as you go through life.

I’ve been incredibly blessed to have the same group of friends for almost 30 years and we’ve seen each other through all of life’s ups and downs. Our motto is, ‘We don’t care for details.’ We’ll show up and help each other through whatever it is we’re facing.

This is one of the reasons I am so pleased to be a part of the Bernini Squadcast Series – it’s all about women supporting women.

You’re a mother and you hold down a fulltime job as a news anchor with Metro FM. With such a busy life how do you make time to stay healthy and fit?  

I really started focusing on my health about four years ago, while I was going through my divorce. Yoga gave me strength, peace and clarity.

It was the first time in my whole life where I prioritized my health, and every single day I made the decision to get on the mat. I would tell myself, just get through today. And the same thing the next day, and the next, and the next.

Even now, sometimes I’ll look at myself in the mirror and chuckle in surprise, that I’m still doing it. It’s my ‘me-time’ – the kids know not to disturb me when I’m practicing my yoga. I need that 30-60 minutes to myself each day.  Unless the house is on fire or someone is bleeding, everything  else can wait. It really can. The world will not fall apart if you’re unavailable for 35 minutes.

When I started practicing again four years ago, I did yoga at home, in the mornings, using an app and I still do that. I very rarely go to a class. In that sense, lockdown didn’t affect my practice sessions at all. In fact, it became more crucial than ever to keep doing my yoga, to cope with the uncertainty and stress of 2020.

You are outspoken about being a bit of a feminist. What does that mean to you and how does it relate to women empowerment in the 21st century?

 A bit? I’d say I’m a raging feminist! To me being a feminist means wanting equality between the sexes. It really isn’t that complicated a concept, and that we still need to spell it out for people who have such a bad visceral reaction to the word and idea, tells you how deep and entrenched patriarchy is among a lot of men, and some women.

I think now, more than ever, women are no longer asking for permission to speak up, to be heard and seen, to be invited to the table, to accept what was the norm.  We’re loud, we’re here, we’re asking for what we want and deserve, we’re creating our own rooms and tables. We’ve got work to do.

I believe so strongly in this for my daughter and my son. I’m raising them both as feminists.

It’s been a very hard year and we are all looking forward to shrugging off the stress and letting go a bit over the festive holidays. How do you plan on getting through the holidays without breaking your fitness and health goals?

Goals? In December? Could never be me! My year-round approach to food is ‘everything in moderation’ – I’m fortunate enough to have no major challenges when it comes to eating well generally, so if I want my chocolate today, I’ll eat the chocolate.

Life is too short, and this year has reinforced that - so I’m going to have the long leisurely meals, the snacks, the biscuits, the cakes for breakfast and all the other treats. I’ll deal with it January. That extra post-holiday 2-3 kilogram, that’s where your happiness and memories reside.

What tips can you give our readers that can inspire them to start their fitness journey and stick to it in the New Year?

Visualize the best possible version of yourself. What do you look like? What are you wearing? Where are you going? What are you saying? Who are you saying it to? Fill in as much detail as possible.

Have that image in your mind every single morning when you wake up. And then work towards that. Day by day. Week by week. Progress might be slow, but you’ll see the change before everyone else does. Just keep at it.

Find your thing: everyone has their thing. For me it’s yoga. For you it may be hitting the road, or the gym or pole dancing. Do it for yourself. Make yourself proud.


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