Step up to 2017

While inspirational quotes and motivational sound bites seem to be endemic on social media, there are the odd occasions when one of these really strikes a chord. I recently had such an experience on seeing an image emblazoned with the words ‘surround yourself with people who get it’. After a really positive start to 2017 – a blissful New Year’s Eve gathering with wonderful friends, a yoga retreat with my sister-in-law, some lovely runs with my fabulous running pals, lots of luxurious time with my husband, and plenty of good books and inspiring podcasts – these words really resonated with me.

It’s amazing how the process of surrounding yourself with inspiring people and good influences can penetrate into your everyday ways of being and feeling. While there is so much going on in the world at the moment that is far from ideal, being around people who ‘get it’ can help to remind you that, even when it appears that your are at odds with the status quo, there are people close at hand who are on the same wavelength as you. That isn’t to say we should encase ourselves in an echo chamber of consensus that leaves our views unchallenged, but rather, by pulling together with similarly-minded people, we can create positive ripples across our spheres of influence, and the more we are, the bigger the initial splash and the greater and more impactful the waves that follow.

So what does this mean in practical terms? How can we reach out to, connect with and be inspired and lifted by those people who get it?

Start with an escape

After the amazing weekend away at The Orange Tree yoga retreat in January last year, my sister-in-law and I immediately booked in for another new year’s escape. Returning to The Orange Tree for the first weekend in January was the best possible way I could have started my year. The retreat reinforced many of the good habits that I had cultivated on my first trip – meditation and mindfulness, regular yoga practice, syncing my movement and by breath – as well providing the perfect opportunity to meet and spend quality time with the most wonderful people.

It was so enriching and nourishing spending quality time with interesting and inspiring people – enjoying rich conversations free from our mobile phones, TVs or other digital distractions – as well as devoting plenty of time to our own headspaces during meditation practices. When we weren’t practicing yoga or meditation we enjoyed lounging in the hot tub, which overlooked the Yorkshire countryside, reading our books by the fire, chatting over delicious vegan food, and enjoying massages and other indulgent treatments. Having the time and space to really engage with the inner workings of your mind is incredibly enlightening and while meditation isn’t the easiest of practices, it is certainly one of the most rewarding.

More details about visiting The Orange Tree are available on their website and to get inside your own head try out the Headspace meditation app.

Move away from materialism

If you have read my recent post on minimalism you will know how much this movement appeals to me. This week my devotion to living with less sunk a little deeper as I finally got round to watching two documentary films that had been on my radar for a while: Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things, which looks at a variety of takes on minimalism, from tiny houses to the stripped back 333 wardrobe, and The True Cost, which examines the fashion industry and its impact on the environment and the workers who make the clothes that we wear every day.

If you haven’t watched these films then you really must take the time to do so; they will change the way that you look at your possessions and, in particular, your clothes, for good. The way that garment makers in developing countries are treated is truly abominable and the impact that the now-52 season fashion industry has on the environment is devastating. Watching these two films in relatively quick succession really fed into my desire to move away from a consumerist way of being and forced me to look at the possessions I have (and where they were made).

One of the interesting takeaways from these films was that while in some ways we are more materialistic than ever, at the same time we have no interest or respect of material objects at all. We buy things to fill other voids in our lives and engage in a fast-fashion culture, which sees us wearing a piece of clothing one day and casting it aside the next.

My sister-in-law and I are toying with the idea of playing the minimalist game, but our biggest concern is, if we are disposing of our things, where will they go? I’ve signed up to free-cycling to pass on domestic appliances that we no longer use to those who need them and we are planning a clothes swap party to recycle fashion among friends. If you have more ideas, websites or companies that can help to recycle or re-use sustainably I’d be really interested to hear more and hope to have a post on sustainable living in the not too distant future.

For some more upcycling inspiration see the beautiful Upcyclist website and move away from fast fashion and be inspired to make your own clothes (or commission a friend to do so!) with Thumblenina.

Listen up for inspiration

I’ve been enjoyed a feast of inspirational podcasts lately and wanted to share a couple of the best with you here.

If you want something to feed your soul listen to Rich Roll’s interview with Guru Singh. I enjoyed listening to this over a series of runs and came back from each feeling so enriched and warm inside. To boost your body confidence, Tina Muir’s interview with Lanni Marchant is amazing. Marchant is such an incredible athlete and inspiring spokesperson and really makes you think about how you connect with your body and appreciate what it can achieve. Similarly, Rich Roll’s interview with Kerri Walsh Jennings, Olympic beach volleyball champion, is so uplifting I found myself smiling all of the way through. If you need a boost then this ‘six feet of sunshine’ is exactly what you are looking for.

Finally, for training inspiration listen to Josh Trent on the Run to the Top podcast. One of the key takeaways from this episode for me was having an overarching reason ‘why’ behind your training programme. Are you aiming to get faster, go further, lose weight or improve your cardiovascular health? While each training session will have its own purpose, it is important to know what your overall objective is so that you feel motivated to stay on course. I was listening to this episode while running in the cold and rain and took a moment to pause for thought on this. I realised that I run to really connect with my body – it is one of the few times I feel like my mind and body are totally in sync and it forces me to listen to, engage with and respect my physical self. It was an enlightening process really examining the question of the why and I really think it is something worth taking the time to do.

Get on your mat

Starting on 1 January Adrienne (of Yoga with Adrienne fame) launched a new free online yoga series called Yoga Revolution. The series consists of 31 yoga session of approximately 30 minutes, which work to help you engage, gain balance, tone, relax, strengthen and sculpt. If you’ve not encountered Adrienne before you can jump straight in with this, or else start with her 30 Days of Yoga series, which I equally loved. The best thing about the series is it’s easy to fit in sessions before work or in the evening before bed and all you need is a yoga mat and something comfy to wear. I can’t tell you what a difference it makes having the opportunity to get onto my mat every day and just take the time to breath and engage. So join the revolution and check this out today!

Write about how happy you are

For Christmas I received a ‘Happiness Planner‘ from my sister-in-law. Each day there is a space to write down what you are excited about, what your main focus is, your to do list, what you are grateful for, the good things that have happened and what you hope for tomorrow. Each section only has space for couple of lines so it’s not a daunting task to complete, but it does really make you think about all of the little things that bring a smile each day. Whether it is meeting friends for a cup of tea and a chat, going on a run in the winter sun, lazing in a bubble bath, getting lost in a good book, or indulging in a glass of red wine after a busy week at work, just taking the time to reflect on these things makes you appreciate them all the more and definitely adds a bit of additional happiness and contentment to your day.

I hope that this all leaves you feeling inspired and ready to take on 2017.

Until my next,

Namaste

To eat, or not to eat? That is the question.

There are few subjects that are so simultaneously prosaic and emotive as food.

We photograph it, comfort eat it and watch programmes about it. We spend hours in the kitchen preparing meals, or spend a fortune in restaurants trying out new and delicious dishes. We read about how to eat ourselves healthier; how to make our skin brighter and our hair shinier through our diets. The internet is full of advice on how to treat certain ailments with a variety of ingredients, or how to improve athletic performance through what we eat. So why then, with all of these positive associations, is food also so inextricably linked with guilt, shame, obsession and illness?

While I know that my guilty pleasures aren’t as decadent as they might be, calories are calories whether they come encased in an avocado skin or a chocolate bar wrapper. I can’t be alone in feeling guilty for mindlessly chomping through a bag of cashews to get me through an afternoon of editing, for curling up with a hot chocolate before bed rather than a herbal tea, or for sneaking a wholly unnecessary round of toast with nut butter as I laze around with the weekend papers, only to regret these decisions just moments later. As my brain flits from gratification to guilt in the blink of an eye, it brings to mind a book I read about the psychology of eating and how we completely confuse ourselves with such mixed messages of ‘pleasure’ and ‘pain’. How can it be that something which one minute we associate with a pleasurable treat then next fills us with the pain of guilt and anxiety?

More to the point, I worry that it it’s abnormal to get so hung up on food in this way – either as an indulgence or as a deleterious presence – and often wish I could just embrace an indifference to eating: a food equals fuel equation, removing all other associations, pleasurable, painful or otherwise. This, I recently discovered, is exactly what Andrew ‘Spud Fit’ Taylor has done. Andrew has taken dieting to the extreme, removing everything from his plate for an entire year with the exception of one thing: potatoes.

I discovered Andrew’s story in a recent interview on the Rich Roll podcast and it really struck a chord with me. Despite being a vegan, Andrew admitted to spending a lot of his life struggling with his weight and suffering from the all too familiar yo-yoing effect of dieting. He came to realise that all of his attempts to lose weight were actually only touching the surface of a much deeper-rooted issue, a food addiction.

It was only a short while before listening to this episode that I had been discussing a similar topic with a friend and former GP. When we spoke she compared food addiction to drug abuse or alcoholism, but with the added difficulty that with food you can’t go completely cold turkey, or wean yourself off it with the eventual aim of giving it up completely. I remember thinking then how hard it must be to curb an addiction when the source of that addiction is also something that you need to survive.

Andrew’s solution was to research and explore nutritional science more deeply to find the perfect single food source of nutrition that could sustain him for an entire year. The answer? Potatoes. By eating potatoes for every meal he was able to take away all thoughts about food; from the practical thoughts – meal planning, food shopping lists, checking if there is something you can eat at a restaurant before attending etc. – to more detrimental or destructive thoughts – cravings, hankerings, obsessive calorie counting and restrictions.

With food out of the equation his hope was that he could retrain his brain ‘to get comfort, pleasure and emotional support from other areas of life’ and to become ‘less reliant on food and therefore have a better relationship with it’.

While this may sound extreme it was interesting to listen to him talk through this process of unshackling himself from the draw of food. From acting as a crutch when he was down to a source of celebration when he was happy, food had played such a central role in his life and now he had to find something else to fill that space. It certainly made me think about all of those times I turn to a snack because I’m bored, or tired, or over-indulge on treats to celebrate some arbitrary event, or else as a source of comfort if I’m feeling down. While my relationship with food certainly isn’t as extreme as Andrew’s was, there are elements of emotional attachment to what I eat that I would certainly like to sever and Andrew’s story is an inspirational way of showing that this is possible.

I would really recommend listening to the interview and exploring Andrew’s blog.

Until next time, eat mindfully, and perhaps take a moment to reflect on where exactly the void is that you are trying to fill next time you turn to the fridge.

The Minimalists

‘Love people and use things. Because the opposite never works.’

Joshua Fields Millburn

Last weekend, on my Sunday run, I enjoyed listening to an interview with self-proclaimed minimalist, Joshua Fields Millburn, who was speaking on the Rich Roll podcast. Millburn, who along with his fellow minimalist Ryan Nicodemus, has written a number of books on the subject of living with less, has also more recently produced a documentary film, which reflects on his life and lifestyle and on our relationship, as a society, with material things.

What I really like about Millburn’s approach to minimalist living is his openness and his pragmatism. For him it’s not as dogmatic as throwing away all of your possessions, or as extreme as reducing your annual waste to the contents of a mason jar. Rather, he looks at the gradual stripping back and rationalisation of things; a process of simplification, not only of the objects around him, but also of his digital and mental clutter. His approach posits that by simplifying all elements of your life you are able to ascertain greater degree of freedom from these physical trappings and, as such, a greater degree of clarity.

The problem, as Millburn sees it, is not consumption per se, but rather our compulsiveness to always want more. What a minimalist approach to life allowed him to see was that his happiness couldn’t be found in material things and that everything he thought he ever wanted wasn’t actually everything he ever wanted. For him, minimalism was about a process of taking back control of the world around him, of not being told what he should want or how a particular thing should make him feel. And what began as a process of unshackling his relationship to material things culminated in his finding a way of creating more by consuming less and a means of prioritising experience over accumulation.

Millburn’s approach to life really struck a chord with me, not least as while I was listening to him speak I ran past two houseboats on Regent’s Canal which, due to recent bad weather, were sinking into the murky waters below, taking with them all of the material possessions of two families. Sobering indeed.

In fact minimalism has appealed to me ever since childhood, when an irrational fear of losing all of my toys in house fire (a fear which, I may add, had no basis in any real event) led me to take many of my possessions to a charity shop, a decision based on the premise that you can’t be sad to lose the things that you don’t have. This detachment from things was joined, in later years, by a love of neatness and general order, creating the perfect storm for discarding and de-cluttering.

While I’d be anxious to call myself a minimalist in the purest sense (not least as I do have my fair share of things and, in a shared living space, I’ve learned that it’s not quite as acceptable to just throw items away as when you live alone), I am quite selective about the things that I take into my life. I like to audit my books, clothes, shoes, paperwork and general bits and bobs on a regular basis, finding something very therapeutic about throwing things away or giving them to charity. I try to operate on a ‘one in one out’ basis, something which my husband finds slightly severe and difficult to understand. When I do buy new things it is often after much agonising, although I do then find that I keep hold of them until they fall apart or, as is more often the case, until they find themselves being held together with safety pins and I’m shamed into throwing them away. It’s not that I don’t like new things, or stuff in general, it’s just that too much of it, its disorder, or its redundancy makes me anxious and uncomfortable.

With Black Friday today and Christmas on the approach and with the prospect of an influx of stuff on my mind I’ve begun with a whole new round of ‘rationalisation’ and am trying to encourage my husband to do the same. At a time we all seem to fixate on things, I’m trying instead to organise spending some time with the people I love and whose company enrich my life more than any object ever could.

If you have time to listen to the podcast or to watch the documentary these can be found here and here, but if not, perhaps just take a step back away from the material world to reflect on the virtues of focusing on life’s most important things—which actually, aren’t really things at all.

Namaste.

Motivation, discipline and true grit

‘Don’t wait around to feel “motivated”, just get disciplined.’

These were wise words of Steve Kamb, founder of Nerd Fitness, speaking in a recent interview on the Runners’ Connect Run to the Top podcast, words which have been doing circuits in my mind ever since.

It’s funny how some things just catch your ear; some pithy refrain that you hear in passing suddenly resonates with you, as if holding up a mirror to your thoughts and behaviours.

How often have I waited to feel inspired to get up early and go for a run and found myself still in bed gone 6am as inspiration has failed to come? Or how many times have I allowed myself to skip a swim session at the end of a work day on the basis that I just wasn’t feeling up to it?

And how many times have I pushed on to do that workout and discovered that actually, despite a weary mind, my limbs are feeling pretty good, and by the end of the session I’m so glad that I overcame that glimmer of doubt, that moment when I let myself half think that I might not train?

The fact is I’m sure very few of us have actually ever regretted doing a workout. There are of course bad sessions and tough sessions and sessions where the whole time you just want it to be over, but when it is over the emotions experienced are more likely pleasure, satisfaction and relief, not regret. Conversely, if you are anything like me, there are certainly times when a missed workout has left you feeling guilty or flat.

Taking this all on board, the message from Kamb is that motivation shouldn’t be a necessary precursor to exercise (or indeed to applying yourself to, and excelling, in any aspect of your life) and ‘I just wasn’t feeling motivated’ really isn’t an adequate excuse to not do something to push yourself closer to your goals. Yes, it certainly helps on those days when you have that extra ‘get up and go’, but with a bit of discipline, the cultivation of good habits and hacking your lifestyle to decrease any obstacles that may get in your way (for an early morning run Kamb suggests sleeping in your gym kit, or putting your alarm clock at the other end of the room from your bed and next to your trainers for example) then your goals are eminently achievable, with or without that ideal of a motivating force powering you forward.

This all put me in mind of an article I read in the Guardian Family by Paula Cocozza on the power of ‘grit’.

Alongside discipline, grit appears to me as one of the paragons of successful living. I like the idea of pushing myself, challenging my expectations and perceived limits, staying motivated and focusing on goals even in the face of adversity. Of course back in the real world practice doesn’t always follow theory and I’m apt to be taken over by flights of fancy, dead set on some idea one minute and on something totally different the next.

Cocozza’s article is based around a new book by Angela Duckworth. Entitled Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. The book examines the notion that natural talent is not the only path to success. Duckworth uses herself and other successful people, from entrepreneurs to athletes and from chefs to army cadets, as case studies to uncover the traits that have resulted in each of them rising to the top of their fields. Qualities include ‘the commitment to finish what you start, to rise from setbacks, to want to improve and succeed, and to undertake sustained and sometimes unpleasant practice to get there’.

In the book, which is part autobiography part social study, Duckworth reveals that in her own difficult relationship with her father, who was never satisfied by her achievements, grit and the adoption of an ‘I’ll show you’ attitude spurred her on to success.

As a mother now herself, Duckworth also teaches her own children ‘grit’, although in a slightly more palatable way than the one served up to her. She has developed a practice called the ‘hard thing rule’, where each family member must choose a discipline and apply themselves to it, and no one is allowed to give up until the activity has run its course. Indeed, there is a lot to be said for learning to stick with something, particularly when it is something that you find so tricky and I’m thinking of applying this rule myself.

In the book Duckworth also challenges the reader to discover how gritty they are. The quiz questions she uses are below so you can see if you really have true grit. For each question select the answer phrase which best applies to you and make a note of your score (from 1 to 5, as given) for each answer.

1. New ideas and projects sometimes distract me from previous ones

Not at all like me (5) not much like me (4) somewhat like me (3) mostly like me (2) very much like me (1)

2. Setbacks don’t discourage me, I don’t give up easily

Not at all like me (1) not much like me (2) somewhat like me (3) mostly like me (4) very much like me (5)

3. I often set a goal but later choose to pursue a different one

Not at all like me (5) not much like me (4) somewhat like me (3) mostly like me (2) very much like me (1)

4. I am a hard worker

Not at all like me (1) not much like me (2) somewhat like me (3) mostly like me (4) very much like me (5)

5. I have difficulty maintaining my focus on projects that take more than a few months to complete

Not at all like me (5) not much like me (4) somewhat like me (3) mostly like me (2) very much like me (1)

6. I finish what I begin

Not at all like me (1) not much like me (2) somewhat like me (3) mostly like me (4) very much like me (5)

7. My interests change from year to year

Not at all like me (5) not much like me (4) somewhat like me (3) mostly like me (2) very much like me (1)

8. I am diligent. I never give up

Not at all like me (1) not much like me (2) somewhat like me (3) mostly like me (4) very much like me (5)

9. I have been obsessed with a certain idea or project for a short time but later lose interest

Not at all like me (5) not much like me (4) somewhat like me (3) mostly like me (2) very much like me (1)

10. I have overcome setbacks to conquer an import challenge

Not at all like me (1) not much like me (2) somewhat like me (3) mostly like me (4) very much like me (5)

Now add up your points and divide by 10 for your grit score.

If you scored 2.5 you are grittier than 10% of US adults,  3.0 grittier than 20%, 3.3 grittier than 30%, 3.5 grittier than 40%, 3.8 grittier than 50%, 3.9 grittier than 60%, 4.1 grittier than 70%, 4.3 grittier than 80%, 4.5 grittier than 90%, 4.7 grittier than 95% and 4.9 grittier than 99%.

Of course, this score only applies to you as you are at the moment, and you can cultivate more grit based on your weaker answers.

I’ll leave you with another of my new found favourite quotes, this time from Jack Canfield speaking on the Rich Roll Podcast:

‘Do just one thing each day towards your goal.’

It’s that simple. Now go and achieve something!

A good influence?

Like many health and wellness bloggers I try to surround myself with positive and inspirational people and media, not only to stay abreast of the latest fitness and diet trends to report back on here, but also to keep me motivated, optimistic and to try to help mould me into the best version of myself (or a slightly better version at least!).

Occasionally I find that something I read, hear in a podcast, or glimpse on social media resonates with me in a much more profound way than the usual interesting, but less effecting, information. While so often the latter type of nuggets will have an instant impact, their effects are, more often than not, only short-lived – a magazine article that pushes me out of the door do a workout, or an Instagram picture that drives me to make a healthier meal choice. However, on the occasions that I read or hear something which has a deeper influence, I find it seeps into my subconscious in a way that goes on to shape the way I think, behave and interact with others well beyond the initial point of impact.

This was of course the case when I switched from a vegetarian to a vegan lifestyle some ten years ago now after learning more about the dairy industry and realising the effects that dairy products had on my body. Once I was equipped with this knowledge the fact of veganism seemed an obvious conclusion.

In recent weeks I had my eyes opened again in this regard as I listened to an interview with Kip Anderson and Keegan Kuhn, makers of the documentary film Cowspiracy. While this documentary had been on my radar, I hadn’t prioritised watching it as I had thought it would just be a case of preaching to the converted. However, what the interview revealed was how little I actually knew about the detrimental effects of animal agriculture on the environment and why grass-fed meat is not the often vaunted ‘sustainable’ solution that many meat eaters claim. Again, equipped with the knowledge that the animal agriculture industry is responsible for more of the ‘human-produced’ greenhouse gasses than all means of transport combined, or that whole ecosystems are disrupted by the land requirements for grazing cattle, and that this is the leading cause of species extinction, habitat destruction and wildlife culling, reaffirmed in my mind my lifestyle choices and made me want to share the message with others (with almost evangelical zeal!).

My attitude to exercise has also taken a positive turn in recent months and this was further solidified by a excerpt in Adharanand Finn’s new book,The Way of the Runner, which I read this week.

After a series of hip issues and my decision not to run the marathon this year I had felt my relationship with running sour somewhat. However, once the pressure of training for an event was removed, and I was able to let my body recover without the anxiety of missed training sessions, I found that I was able to reconnect with the real reason I go out running: just because.

Finn voiced these sentiments perfectly in his book:

I know some people run to loose weight, to get fit, or maybe they’re running to raise money for a charity. But for me…these are just by-products. Running itself has its own raison d’être…[W]e run to connect with something in ourselves, something buried deep down beneath all the worldly layers of identity and responsibility. Running, in its simplicity, its pure brutality, peels away these layers, revealing the raw human underneath…[I]f we push on, running harder, further deeper into the wildness of it all, away from the world and the structure of our lives…we begin to float…Our minds begin to clear and we begin to feel strangely detached, and yet at the same time connected, connected to ourselves…

In this modern world we need excuses…The world is set up to cater for the rational, logical mind, which needs to see tangible reasons and benefits behind any effort. We need to dangle the carrot of marathons and best times in front of ourselves to justify this strange habit of getting up, running around outside, coming back having not actually gone anywhere…And this, on some superficial level motivates me to run. But really, deep down, I know it’s just a front. What I really want to do is get away from all of the structure, the complexity and chaos of my constructed life, and to connect with the simple human that lies buried under everything else.

I don’t doubt that this is a message that will resonate with many other runners.

Finally, with my daily practice of yoga and discovery of the wider mindfulness and meditation movement, I can feel another shift taking place. Partly responsible for this greater sense of connectedness and peace with myself is my recent discovery of Rich Roll. Roll’s podcast is full of interviews with inspirational ‘paradigm breakers’ in different fields from business, music, fitness, meditation, sleep and nutrition, and his unapologetic approach to health, wellness and veganism (the tagline to his bio is ‘a life transformed by plants’), have all served to motivate me to feel more at peace and proud of my lifestyle choices, while also compelling me to strive for more in work, exercise, wellness and diet.

You need only to listen to his interviews with Ariana Huffington, John Joseph, Light Watkins, Jedidiah Jenkins, Mishka Shubaly, or indeed any of the other motivational interviewees he has had on the show to realise what an incredible resource this is.

There are some really powerful lessons to be learned: Roll is a recovering alcoholic turned ultra-athlete and he is pretty frank that to make a change in any element of your life you already know what to do:

There is no secret bullet or life-hack that is going to help you to accomplish what you want to do, it’s simply a case of stopping what you doing and switching to take the actions that will move you closer to your goal. It’s tough to hear because people want to hear that there is an easier, softer way. The short-cut is to make that goal your absolute one priority and do anything you can to achieve it.

The podcast makes me think about life in a holistic sense: in an interview with Jason Garner, Garner highlighted the problem of compartmentalising different aspects of our lives and how ‘we talk about work life balance as if work isn’t part of our life’, something which really struck a chord with me. In another episode our engagement with social media was brought into question and the focus was placed on the importance of ‘being’ rather than ‘appearing to be’, a shift that would serve many of us.

At it’s essence is the message that life, success and happiness is all about perspective – two people can have the same experience and perceive it totally differently, so what you have to ask is how much responsibility are you prepared to take for your mindset and approach to life?

I will finish with a Viktor Frankl quote that I particularly like, which Roll cited in an episode I was listening to this week:

Between stillness and response there is a space and in that space is our power to choose our response and in our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Happy inspiring.

 

 

Train your mind, fuel your body and start getting stronger

Last week the flu epidemic that seems to have been sweeping our office finally caught up with me. From feeling unusually achy and slightly sub-par while doing my yoga on Wednesday morning, I found myself a shivering, sweating, aching, snotty mess by Wednesday evening.

While my training dwindled into non-existence and I had to miss a race on Sunday, what I lacked in movement I made up for in sleep. Unable to get out of bed for a couple of days I also had plenty of time to listen to lots of health and fitness podcasts and I used the time to listen, learn and be inspired.

Rich Roll PodcastI began with a good dose of the Ben Greenfield Fitness podcast and it was through him that I discovered the Rich Roll podcast, a new revelation in my wellness listening (Greenfield’s interview with Rich Roll can be found here and is well worth a listen).

Roll is a vegan ultra-endurance athlete and health and wellness advocate, and his wife, Julie Piatt, is a vegan chef and a mindfulness and meditation guru. Roll leads on the podcast, but he and Julie have written a book together – The Plantpower Way – a cookbook-come-lifestyle guide, and in the initial edition of the podcast I listened to, they discussed the book together.

This episode also looked at the emotional drivers behind diet and behaviour. In particular it focused on the importance of taking a holistic approach to your health and well being, as well as on the value of meditation in nurturing your emotional and spiritual sides. Roll described it as ‘going beyond the kale‘, emphasising the point that diet alone is not enough for complete wellness. While you may choose to adopt a plant-based diet, rather than simply letting that be an end it itself, you should go beyond the green juices and lentils and take the increased vitality afforded by your diet to fuel other elements of your life.

9781583335871_The-Plantpower-Way-1024x943Similarly, while exercise has its place and values, alone is not enough for total health. As Roll points out, you can be out running, which is ostensibly a positive act, but in that space you might also find that you are being very hard on yourself and running becomes ‘its own repression machine’. Of course running can also be incredibly liberating, it all comes down to the perspective that you bring to it, but if you are using running as an escape or ‘if you’re stuck in running and you get super compulsive about it, ask yourself, is that any better than any other addictive behaviour pattern?’

I found this perspective particularly helpful, as I know from my own experience that while sometimes I find running very calming and restorative, at others, (particularly at the moment when pain and injury are combining with the feeling that I need oomph up my fitness), running becomes its own source of stress and anxiety. Having someone else verbalise this has helped me to think about the role that running plays in my life and has allowed me to take a step back to reflect on where it is bringing me positive energy and where it is becoming an emotional and energy drain.

Piatt also stressed that running does not offer enough of a meditative space to allow you to fully enjoy all of the positive benefits of meditation. While it can offer a transformative and very positive space, it is no substitute for seated meditation, which provides a more complete opportunity for self-enquiry and self-discovery. It allows you to quieten the mind and create a reflective space between the goings on of the world and your responses to them. It also opens up a healing space for you to reflect on your character and priorities, as well as to re-balance the energetic mind and body.

HeadspaceWhile Piatt directed listeners to a guided meditation on her website, Roll promoted the Headspace meditation app. I have to admit to having the app but, at the time of listening to this podcast, to only being a few sessions in to the Take 10 series. So, with all of this positive talk of meditation, I used my bed-bound time to re-engage with the app and feel like I’ve really started to make some progress.

I have been trying to get into meditation since the yoga retreat in January, and have toyed with sessions on and off, but I know that to really ‘crack it’ I need to make meditating as much of a habit as my morning yoga sessions or lunchtime runs.

In a later podcast episode, but still on the theme of meditation, Roll interviewed meditation guru Light Watkins. Here the discussion touched on this idea of making meditation a habit. Watkins noted that the difficult thing is to break your bad habits, in this case, the habit of not meditating, rather than to adopt positive new ones. He used the example of a man who had re-engineered his bike so that the handlebars were backwards, meaning that when he turned left he would go right and when he turned right he would go left. It took him eight months of practising for five minutes every morning before he finally cracked being able to ride the bike down his drive. In this instance, as with meditating, it is not about the knowledge of how something is done or why it works, or even the processes that you need to go through to get the desired end result, rather it is about consistent behaviour and being consistent enough that your body eventually habituates towards meditating (or riding a backwards bicycle).

In Roll’s conversation with Light, again there was an emphasis on holistic health, giving the example of a Rubik’s cube, where every side of the cube has to be balanced. In this example meditation offers the tool to unlock the problem of the Rubik’s cube and restore overall balance.

I found this a really useful way of thinking about meditation and the body as a whole and it certainly gave me food for thought with regard to how I treat my mind and body.

My other valuable takeaway from Watkins and Piatt was the idea that we shouldn’t regard events or circumstances as wholly good or bad. Rather than polarising our experiences we should try to see the nuances and reflect on what can be learned from them. Piatt noted that ‘there is no human life that does not have any darkness in it…in order to be a fully integrated human being you have to have embraced both the light and the dark, it is what has made you what you are today. You can’t cut off a part of your existence and pretend it never happened’.

While this is a sentiment we may have heard many times before, I found it incredibly comforting and reassuring, particularly during a week of illness, which I had been regarding as entirely negative.

As this post has perhaps shown, taking time out, even when unable to get out of bed, can be positive and constructive. For me, it was a chance to listen to podcasts and to my body, to encounter new inspirational speakers, to meditate (unhampered by the feeling I should be doing something more ‘active’) and to reflect on the health of my body as a whole unit.

Here is where we start getting stronger.