PAUSE Salon: On Mental Agility, Tenacity & Balance

Tamara Kisha Tan

Amelia AmeraN




The teams behind both The Amazing Trekkers Club (“ATC”) and PAUSE Magazine (“PAUSE”) came together in the evening of Thursday, 23rd November at The Co. @ Duxton, to offer their audience a space that combined both dialogue and discussion with the opportunity to collectively slow down, reflect and reconnect with the self.  

The event was graced by Dato’ Elaine Teh of the International Women’s Federation of Commerce and Industry (IWFCI)’s Malaysian chapter, as well as award-winning Travel Producer/Presenter, Eco-advocate (& Yoga enthusiast), Denise Keller. PAUSE Magazine’s PAUSE Guide, Elaine Ho, led the 60-strong crowd in #pause and reflection, before the commencement of the panel discussion (or what we’d like to refer to as our inaugural PAUSE Salon session - find out more about the inspiration behind a PAUSE Salon.


Salon Topic: Perspectives on ‘Peaks & Pause’: Mental Agility, Tenacity and Balance
Salon Moderator: Tamara Kisha, Editor, PAUSE Magazine
Salon Panellists, listed in order of introduction: 

  1. Hazleen Panayiotou // Founder, Amazing Trekkers Club (ATC) – A mother of three, Hazleen has been trekking up mountains since 2014. She has scaled 36 peaks to date, both regionally and internationally. Most recently, she and a team from the ATC scaled Everest in Nepal and successfully planted their flag on its Base Camp, which sits at 5,380m high, via a southeast ridge ascent. 
  2. Denise Keller // Travel Producer/Presenter, Eco-advocate (& Yoga enthusiast) – With a career that has seen super hectic travelling over the last 16 years–from modelling throughout SouthEast Asia (and in Hong Kong, New York, Tokyo) and travelling for MTV when she was their spunky VJ, to being the enigmatic and adventurous travel host on Discovery TLC’s series ‘Passages’, Discovery Channel’s ‘Expedition X: The Silk Road Rising’ as well as representing HBO ASIA at the Oscars as their Red Carpet Host–Denise is no stranger to finding centredness amidst the chaos.
  3. Ferina Natasya Aziz // Founder, PAUSE Magazine – For more on Ferina's background, check this out. You can also find out what her ideal #pause is, over here. 
  4. Dr Kiran Kashyap // MBBS (NUS 1992), MMed Family Medicine (NUS 1998), USMLE (ECFMG 2004), MCGP (Singapore 2009), Graduate Diploma Geriatric Medicine (NUS 2011), Senior Resident Family Physician at East Coast Family Clinic; Adjunct Lecturer at the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore (YLLSoM, NUS) – Mother of two and ATC's Medical Advisor, Dr Kiran speaks English, Malay, Hindi, Punjabi and simple Mandarin and Hokkien. Aside from pursuing her passion for teaching as an Adjunct Lecturer at the Yong Loo Lin School Of Medicine, National University of Singapore (YLLSoM, NUS), she also sits on the Editorial Board of 'The College Mirror', a publication of the College of Family Physicians, and is a member of the Clinical Bioethics Committee of National University Hospital (NUH).

Salon Panel Member #1: Hazleen  

Getting Bitten by the Trekking Bug Hazleen goes back to where it all started: her first mountain trek up Mt. Kinabalu (4,095m), which she only had 2 weeks to train for. She recounts that the climb was tough, but the feeling she experienced when she scaled to the top was priceless, life-changing and indescribable. That intangible feeling of accomplishment is what keeps her eye on the next peak (and the peak after that).  

Collaborating with PAUSE Magazine – While 2017 was a fulfilling and exciting year for the ATC team, Hazleen realised that she and her fellow climbers were often solely goal-oriented on their treks. Their energy would be focused on getting to the summit, followed by trekking back down. There was barely any opportunity for pause or reflection. Thus, a partnership with PAUSE Magazine seemed natural, as the team's expertise would go a long way in helping to promote a more 'conscious' and mindful trekking experience for all ATC trekking teams in 2018.  

Trekking Safely & Staying Connected – As one of the few trekking clubs in Singapore with a license to operate from the Singapore Tourism Board (STB), Hazleen prides herself on continually engineering ATC’s treks to be as safe as it is fun and adventurous. As a women-only trekking club, Hazleen is aware that all her club members are beloved daughters, mothers, sisters and wives, and that she is responsible for their safety. She recently made the decision to start bringing GARMIN-brand SOS Satellite phones on each and every ATC trek, specifically with the intention to allow families of ATC team members to login online anytime to chart their progress clearly on a map.  

On Responsibility – Hazleen is often the trek leader on many of the expeditions ATC embarks on. Her most recent trek was to the Everest Base Camp, where the team had to trek through 9 rather treacherous-looking bridges. A team member on that trek had a known fear of heights and was completing these bridges at a slower pace, compared to others. After getting across a couple of bridges, Hazleen asked her trekking teammate if she could ‘please go a bit faster’ on the subsequent bridges. Her teammate gave her a flat, ‘no’. and explained that her phobia prevented her from doing so. Hazleen realised that her responsibility as a trek leader was not just to get everyone safely to their destination- it also encompassed her being responsible for the team’s morale, particularly when their respective capabilities were concerned. 

Salon Panel Member #2: Denise Keller

Travelling for Work, Adventure & Growth – Denise acknowledged that the mantra for a large part of her career has essentially been 'Go-Go-Go'! Travelling constantly for work since her late-teens/throughout her twenties was hardly ever daunting – Denise never shied away from adventure and knew early on that it was something that brought her joy. While she loved and had tonnes of fun being an MTV-VJ (her career spanned an impressive seven years on the popular network), she knew that she couldn't possibly hang onto the coveted spot forever. Denise was also keenly aware of the fact that her steady success and image as a spunky MTV-VJ would be something that would be hard to breakaway from. Fortunately, Denise didn’t only hone her presentation and hosting talents in her years at MTV – she was also known for her positive work ethic, and it didn’t go unnoticed. Consequently, Denise had the opportunity to work with MasterCard as their Fashion Ambassador for Asia-Pacific, travelling throughout Asia to cover Fashion Week events; she was also signed with IMG Asia Pacific. Denise’s burgeoning popularity and appeal over the last decade is testament to her personal and professional growth, as well as her ability to focus on working toward what she wants to achieve. 

On Goal-setting, Focus and Determination:  Denise may have made an almost seamless transition to hosting Discovery TLC’s ‘Passages’ series, but shares that it was not a gig that just fell into her lap. Her flair for hosting and presenting may be known, but she still had to work hard to convince the decision-makers at Discovery TLC that she was capable of producing and hosting factual documentaries. Denise was determined to prove that she was someone they could count on for the role, and channeled her full focus on presenting a proposal that they could not say ‘no’ to. She had a sense that telling a story that was uniquely hers, would work. She had to own it. And what better story could she share than that of her own homecoming? A proposal around travelling to Malacca, Malaysia to reunite with her extended family kicked of 'Passages’. In an episode of 'Passage To Malaysia', the cameras followed Denise's epic, heartfelt and emotional journey back to her maternal Chinese roots. Subsequently, Denise also hosted and produced 'Passage To Abu Dhabi', 'Passage to China' and migrated finally to Discovery Channel’s documentary film, ‘Expedition X: The Silk Road Rising', which chronicled the re-ascendant Silk Road that spans from Turkey to China. 

On Finding (and maintaining) Centredness – Denise embraced everything that came her way with gusto and an open heart, including daily 4 AM call times to catch great shots in the sunrise and shooting all the way past sunset, into dusk. She attributes getting through the aforementioned challenges to two main things: (1) her tenacity and (2) her yoga practice. Tenacity was paramount in her quest to get her proposal approved by Discovery TLC. It was also an essential attribute that kept her showing up each and every day to not just host the show, but also to contribute to the extensive research that goes on behind-the-scenes. In tandem, Denise's yoga practice is what anchored her amidst the chaos and noise; it helped to pace her energy and kept feeling overwhelmed, at bay. She recounted that she'd roll out her mat anytime she needed a good pause to realign and recalibrate–even on set. 

Channeling ‘Falcon Eyes' to Stay Composed – One of Denise's more recent high-profile, high-stress gigs was for HBO ASIA: She was their Red Carpet Host at the Oscars earlier this year. As the most prominent award show on Earth, it's no surprise that being at the event was a nerve-wracking experience. Denise shared that prepping for the gig was just as gruelling as the actual job itself, because she had a limited time to memorise every single nominee for every single category–past, present and what-could-be. Armed with said arsenal of essential information on the red carpet, Denise also had to contend with being sequestered in a designated 'media box' for more than six hours straight, waiting for the chance to catch the eye of actors'/actress' Publicists. To maintain her focus and composure, Denise utilised a nifty bit of her own brand of zoomorphism, which involved the use of 'falcon eyes' to garner the (crucial) attention of Publicists. Falcons are the fastest birds in the world–as birds of prey, they are are known for their extreme concentration, so they not only see far but also have the knack of spotting things before anyone else. Denise described channeling her ‘inner falcon’ as putting all her intention and energy into her stare, as she sent it across the red carpet. This was paramount in helping her spot key personalities and ensured that no Publicist would make a pass on her. As we all know, it worked very well – Denise managed to interview every single actor/actress she had set out to speak to. 

Salon Panel Member #3: Ferina Natasya Aziz

Out of the Darkness  – Ferina shared that the magazine is not just a business to her, but rather a passion project from the heart that was ignited by a trying period in her life when she was diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety disorder. Ferina shared about how clouded her days were during this dark and confusing time; how fearful she felt of doing everyday tasks. Even something seemingly 'simple' like heading downstairs or taking the train to work, was difficult for her. Ferina recounted that she also experienced terrible panic attacks, particularly when she found herself in claustrophobic spaces, making it impossible for her to ride the lift. While she did try to think about why her mind and body was 'betraying' her and as a result, curtailing the independence she once blissfully enjoyed, Ferina eventually decided that not leaving the house was the best solution. Naturally, this didn't bode well for her career. As a direct result of her depression and anxiety disorder, Ferina lost her job, which further added to her stresses at the time. 

Finding Solace in Journaling & Online Interaction – Ferina eventually came to realise that she needed professional help – but it took her some time to understand and acknowledge the fact that she required this. In the meantime, she still needed to find a way to cope from day to day. Ferina shared that she instinctively turned to writing and blogging online to express her confusion and inner turmoil–she initially didn't have an audience in mind when she started the daily healing routine of writing. Nevertheless, soon after she started blogging, she found that she was not alone. People from all walks of life started responding to her messages online, telling her that they were going through the exact same thing. The support she received was both heartening and uplifting and inspired her to start a wellness portal–which is the genesis of the magazine we see today. 

What keeps Ferina Going – Running a start-up is reputedly one of the loneliest journeys a person can embark on. On top of that, there is serious competition within the wellness industry itself. Ferina acknowledges this – she shared that there are truly many start-up struggles which sometimes make her want to give up on the portal altogether, but what truly keeps her strong is a commitment to keeping a consistent tab on her outlook on the business. Each morning without fail, she asks herself, “Am I still looking forward to work? Or do I feel like throwing in the towel?" The answers to these questions set her tone for day. Whether they are negative or positive responses (or even a mix of both), she meditates on them and often concludes the meditation with a new understanding of her perspectives. Essentially, Ferina remains passionate about the business because she believes that the ‘breakdown’ she had was a ‘message’ from the cosmos/universe to be a voice for both herself and others. 

Salon Panel Member #4: Dr Kiran Kashyap

Weighing in on the comments of Hazleen, Denise and Ferina, Dr Kiran gave an overview of the various physical and mental health benefits of activities like trekking (it's good exercise! no surprises there...), as well as her thoughts on the practice and importance of slowing down (yup, you guessed it: also very good for you).

Engineering Personal Success – On whether the successful and driven women in the panel shared any common thought processes that primed them for succeeding at what they set out to do, Dr Kiran referred to TED-Talk famous Angela Duckworth's work from her book, 'GRIT: The Power of Passion and Perseverance'. In her book, Angela Duckworth shows how grit distinguishes high achievers, and why talent isn’t as important as most people think it is. Dr Kiran also shared some of the general points from her lectures at the YLLSoM at NUS.  Naturally, we all took notes of her valuable advice on what will prime you to be more successful at what you do, and they are as follows: 

  1. You need GRIT = a combination of passion and perseverance
    Passion here does not refer to the intensity of emotion that keeps one going; rather, it refers to a consistent dedication to long-term goals. 
    Perseverance refers to a person's ability to get through challenges and setbacks, to work hard in the face of obstacles, and to complete what was started. 

  2. You not only need to have a positive attitude – you also need to couple that with active optimism. 
  3. You must learn how to take decisive action. 
  4. You need to have around you a strong network of social support.
  5. You should be prepared to make behavioural changes, including:
    • Establishing goals 
    • Setting oneself up for success
    • Making small changes that are realistic

Tenacity & Grit: Nature or Nurture – We also asked Dr Kiran if she thought that we could all aspire to achieve similar 'levels' of tenacity – is tenacity / grit an innate trait that we're born with in varying capacities? Or can we take concrete steps to build upon it? i.e. the nurture or nature argument. Dr Kiran posited that it's entirely possible for anyone to build up more tenacity, particularly because it's very much a mind-oriented behavioural change. The brain is a very large muscle, and we can literally train it up.

Riding Through Difficulties Begets Tenacity – So how would one even start this process? What should one actually do to strengthen their mental agility? Dr Kiran advises that we all start small – begin the process of 'punching up' your grit levels by doing something difficult for a bit longer each time you do it, or by actively choosing to do something you find difficult, each day. 


Note: The above is a summary of panel points raised; panelists' views expressed here are solely their own.

Do you have any comments or questions you'd like to pose to the panel? Even if the PAUSE Salon session is over, you can still do so in the comments below. You can also view more photos of the Salon session and stay up to date on when our next PAUSE Salon session will take place. We hope to see you there!