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The 5 Keys to Employee Wellbeing

The working environment is becoming increasingly complex to manage. The lines between working and non-working are blurring. There is a constant pressure to perform, and this is having a dramatic impact on the health of millions of Australian workers.

 

According to DHS, in 2016, absenteeism increased to 9.5 days per employee, at an average cost of $3608. (1) For an ASX-200 organisation, this could mean tens of millions of dollars paid to absent employees every year.

Furthermore, a national survey from Comcare found that “the healthiest employees are almost three times more effective than the least healthy, with the healthiest employees working approximately 143 effective hours per month compared to 49 effective hours per month by the least healthy.” (2)

 

It’s not merely sick-leave that damages organisations, it’s also health-related inefficiency.

 

A simple understanding of physiology makes this finding obvious: An unhealthy brain (and body) functions less effectively than a healthy brain.

 

The Solution

 

To improve employee wellbeing requires more than just motivational posters and a fruit bowl in the lunchroom. Optimum health and fitness require a specific program designed by trained health professionals – one that educates staff on nutrition, exercise and lifestyle.

 

The evidence for large-scale wellbeing programs is coming to the fore. Comcare also reported “There is a wealth of emerging evidence indicating that successful health and wellbeing programs provide an excellent return on investment. For instance, one meta-evaluation looking at the economic return of worksite health promotion programs found on average programs (2):

> decrease sick leave absenteeism by 25.3%

> decrease workers compensation costs by 40.7%

> decrease disability management costs by 24.2%;

 

They concluded: “Global research has found that when employee health and wellness is managed well the percentage of engaged employees increases from 7% to 55%. This research also found self-reported creativity and innovation increases from 20% to 72%.” (2)

 

Considering the above findings, it’s clear there is a strong link between company success and the wellbeing of its employees. This is why I’ve partnered with my old cronies at 5th Element Wellness, to build the corporate world’s first holistic 12-week health and fitness program, The Ultimate Reboot.

 

 Let’s dig deeper into the most important factors that promote employee wellbeing.

 

  1. Nourishing Food

 

No topic on health is more controversial than the food we eat. The combination of emotional bias mixed with fad diets and marketing gimmicks means that navigating the world of nutritional science is more complex than ever. It’s important to receive advice from professionals who have achieved results with clients thousands of times.

 

The purpose of a nutritional program is not to starve the body with the old adage, calories in versus calories out. A well designed nutritional program attempts to increase nutrient density of the body’s tissues, which creates a much better environment for optimal physiology to occur.

 

Counterintuitively much of the time, the more nutrients we eat, the more body fat we lose. This is because we experience better hormone function, optimal neurotransmitter balance, enhanced blood flow and digestion and much more.

 

The primary focus should be on the right types of food, not just on how much.

 

With the perfect meal plan, we can expect to experience a focused mind, positive mood, better digestion, improved sleep, consistent energy levels and of course a trimmer waistline. The importance of good quality nourishing food is essential for optimal health for Australian workers.

 

Tip: Beginning a working day with a nutrient dense breakfast containing high fat and protein with minimal carbohydrates will ensure stable blood sugar levels throughout the day. Eating this way leads to enhanced focus, productivity and mood.

 

 

  1. A Focused Mind

 

A focused mind means a worry-free mind. We know this intuitively. When someone is worried or troubled at work, it’s near impossible to achieve any major goals for that day. This is due to a critical survival hormone known as cortisol.

 

This corticosteroid hormone actively shuts down the prefrontal cortex and instead diverts blood to the amygdala and muscles of the body. When we are in a state of constant fight, flight or freeze, we experience an inability to make clear decisions or even communicate effectively. This can have a catastrophic effect if compounded in the workplace.

 

According to Medibank Australia, “Stress-related presenteeism (employees showing up to work when they aren’t psychologically fit) and absenteeism equate to 3.2 days lost per worker per year.” (3)

 

This means that on average, an employee will have over three days of zero productivity, simply because they have too much on their mind.

 

Often, this can result in poor sleep and a compromised immune system leading to further sick-leave or ineffective working.

 

There are many useful ways to manage stress including:

  • Meditation
  • Yoga, Qi Gong and Tai Chi
  • Spending time in nature
  • Maintaining a regular sleep pattern
  • Eating healthy food
  • Daily exercise
  • Listening to music
  • Being around loved ones
  • Writing in a daily journal

 

While it sometimes may seem like a chore, it is essential for employees to engage in non-work activities they enjoy so that they can be more engaged and fulfilled in their work environment.

 

 

  1. Human Movement

 

We have evolved over millions of years, interacting with nature, swinging from trees, climbing rocks and swimming. Today, however, we’re far removed from our natural human environment. We now sit in a chair, hunched over a desk, under artificial light, breathing stale air, wearing restrictive clothing and experiencing a cascade of stress hormones. Our food is grown, harvested, processed and packaged for us, often hundreds of kilometres away. Our need to walk hundreds of kilometres each week is outsourced to motor-vehicles and other transport. We no longer move how we use to.

 

Our society believes that spending three hours per week dedicated to movement is healthy.

 

However, this is not enough. Our best client results have come when they have moved more often. The more often someone is moving, the more body fat they lose and the more energy they have. It has become evident that the more movement you integrated into the day, the livelier you become.

 

So how do you approach including more movement into your life?

 

Start by walking more. Walk to work and back home; Walk to the supermarket; Walk while taking a phone call; Walk to pick your kids up from school. By walking more, you will stimulate your metabolism, flush blood through your body, open your lungs, deliver nutrients to every one of your cells and most importantly, take a little time to stop and smell the roses.

 

Insight: When you’re not moving, your blood flow slows down, which creates an oxygen deficit in your brain. Increasing the amount of movement, you perform each day can dramatically improve neurochemical balance, resulting in enhanced cognitive performance and feelings of positivity.

 

 

  1. A Sound Night’s Sleep

 

The key to health is the circadian rhythm or our sleep-wake cycle. We have evolved to fall asleep just after sunset and wake up just before sunrise. In today’s modern world this normal rhythm has been altered, and we either don’t get the right sleep or don’t get the right amount of sleep.

 

How much sleep do you need?

 

Sleep regulates about 15-20% of your entire genome, meaning your genes can turn on or off with sufficient levels of sleep. When you deplete your body of sleep over the long term, you can experience severe ill effects ranging from lethargy and depression to psychosis and death.

 

Research has shown that a minimum of 7-8 hours is required for optimal brain function, sex hormone production, fat loss and prevention of certain diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. (4)

 

To support proper sleep rhythms one can implement the following:

  • Spend 5-10 minutes meditating or listening to quiet music before bed
  • Ensure adequate exposure to nature to promote healthy brain waves
  • Eat adequate amounts of food to stabilise blood sugar levels
  • Avoid social media, television and other forms of blue light exposure at night
  • Exercise and move often

 

 

  1. Purpose and Engagement

 

87% of the world’s workers are disengaged. (5)

 

As humans, we have a sincere desire to feel needed and purposeful. Believe it or not, this adds to our sense of wellbeing and can dramatically affect our health. As we discovered previously, our health and wellbeing affect our engagement in work-related activities.

 

After years in a role, we may feel a sense of stagnation or lack of growth, which can affect our motivation and productivity. Thankfully, working toward any goal boosts our motivation in all other pursuits. This makes optimum health and wellbeing a worthy ambition for employees of large organisations.

 

To generate engagement, it is essential to focus on setting goals and measuring results.

 

This can be done with a daily journal coupled with moments of deep introspection. With a clear goal, or path, we have a direction and feel purposeful. By measuring our results, or progress, we continually remind ourselves of our ambitions and further increase motivation. It’s a positive feedback loop.

 

Case Study: The Ultimate Reboot partnered with Telstra to deliver an employee well-being program across many sectors. The program produced excellent results and lessons for all participants however the sector that performed the best had a greater sense of purpose and engagement. This high-performing group was led by an executive director of staff at Telstra. The team had a much more significant sense of program engagement because their leader was highly engaged and highly committed. It’s clear that leadership positions in the workforce play a substantial role in the decision making that impacts the rest of the staff. To ensure greater employee engagement, focus at the top.

 

Find out more how to improve your employee’s wellbeing and engagement at The Ultimate Reboot

 

References:
  1. https://www.dhs.net.au/insight/2016-absence-management-survey-results/ 
  2. https://www.comcare.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/99303/Benefits_to_business_the_evidence_for_investing_in_worker_health_and_wellbeing_PDF,_89.4_KB.pdf
  3. https://www.medibank.com.au/Client/Documents/Pdfs/The-Cost-of-Workplace-Stress.pdf
  4. Cappuccio, F. P., D’Elia, L., Strazzullo, P., & Miller, M. A. (2010). Sleep duration and all-cause mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies. Sleep, 33(5), 585-592. 
  5. Gallup. The worldwide employee engagement crisis. 2016

 

 

 

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So, How Does Yoga Really Work?

The tradition of yoga has advanced humankind for thousands of years. Originating from India, the lineage of yoga can be traced back to the Vedic Tradition, around 5000 B.C.E. Then, ancient rishis and sages would practice simple forms of yoga, mainly seated meditation and breath work (pranayama). They were the first human guinea pigs and used their bodies to experiment and uncover the full potential of the human being. Now, approximately in the 21st century, Western Science is unveiling the healing powers of Yoga.

Yoga comprises of 5 primary practices: Asana (postures), pranayama, meditation, chanting and philosophical inquiry. The majority of the research explores the effects of meditation and asana. However, the benefits of chanting & breath control are now slowly being uncovered.

This essay is a brief review of the effects of yoga on different systems of the body. I have attempted to find peer-reviewed literature to support the claims made, however, due to the lack of research available in some areas, I rely on my own experiences of practicing yoga for 6 years as well as the experiences of my teachers who have been practicing for several decades combined.

 

Cardiovascular

Cardiovascular disease is one of the most significant causes of death in the Western World. We know, both through science and experience, that the cardiovascular system is closely linked with emotional stress. When we are stressed, our heart beats faster, or it might even palpitate, our face goes red and blood pressure elevates. Shockingly but somewhat not surprisingly, the most common time for a western man to sustain a heart attack is at 9:30 on Monday morning, just as he enters the office and sits down for work. This one example illustrates the powerful link between the heart and emotions.

The practice of yoga, through stress reduction, has been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. As this illness is multifactorial, many parameters are usually measured, including cholesterol levels, blood pressure, heart rate, inflammation, blood vessel damage. To quote one study in particular:

“After one year, the yoga groups showed significant reduction in number of anginal episodes per week, improved exercise capacity and decrease in body weight. Serum total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels also showed greater reductions as compared with control group. Revascularisation procedures were less frequently required in the yoga group. Coronary angiography repeated at one year showed that significantly more lesions regressed and less lesions progressed in the yoga group.”

 To have such a profound effect on the most significant cause of death in the West makes me believe this should be mandatory for companies to implement for their staff. The downstream impact on the economy from fewer healthcare costs etc. is also worth noting.

Fortunately, another study measured heart rate variability and blood pressure during chanting. “Both prayer and mantra caused striking, powerful, and synchronous increases in existing cardiovascular rhythms. Baroreflex sensitivity also increased significantly.”  Baroreflex sensitivity refers to the body’s ability to control blood pressure, a parameter highly associated with cardiovascular disease. Heart rate variability (cardiovascular rhythms) is associated with positive mood and reduced anxiety levels, which we will now explore further.

 

Neurological

Our neurology is the least understood system of the human body. Every day we discover something new about how our brain and it’s chemicals work. Despite this, the research describing the benefits of yoga predominantly involve our nervous system. What’s undeniable for any experienced practitioner of yoga, is the feeling we have after practice.

The effects of yoga on the neurological system are profound. From balancing neurotransmitters to increased levels of grey matter. From changes in brain waves to permanent physical rewiring as a result of neuroplasticity, our brains are an incredible organ that allows us to feel the full spectrum of emotions, something unique to the human species.

Our primary stress hormone cortisol directly destroys neurons in our hippocampus, which leads to a reduced ability to integrate short-term memory to long-term memory. When we meditate, we gain much higher control of our HPA-axis, which governs cortisol secretion. This act of meditation undoubtedly leads to greater memory and concentration through the attenuation of the sympathetic nervous system. As for our Limbic system, it not only regulates our emotion but is also the centre for autonomic breath control. This is why we may experience a release of emotions during intense sessions of pranayama.

Brain waves are the result of and control our state of being in the world. We have 6 activity levels of brain waves, measured in hertz (cycles per second):

  1. Gamma 38-42hz
  2. Beta 12-38hz
  3. Alpha 8-12hz
  4. Theta 3-8hz
  5. Delta 0.5-3hz
  6. Infra-Low <0.5hz

As Steven Cope suggests in his book The Wisdom of Yoga, brain waves can be altered through the practice of yoga. 

 “Brain wave activity begins to shift from the “beta waves” of regular wakefulness to somewhat longer, slower “alpha waves”. We feel what its like to inhabit a truly calm body. New research shows, too, that meditation produces identifiable changes in the brain. Meditation increases activity in areas of the brain associated with positive feelings, reduction in anxiety and faster recovery after negative provocation.”

 Cope expands further

We know that

 

[meditation] promotes states of equanimity in several ways: The levels of stress hormones – epinephrine, norepinephrine, cortisol – are ratcheted down, calming the nervous system. Heart rate and blood pressure drop and the breathing rate slows as the body’s need for oxygen is reduced. Metabolism slows. Muscle tension is relaxed significantly.” All of this is achieved through the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system. When we practice meditation, chanting and diaphragmatic breathing, we activate the vagus nerve, which is responsible for the ‘rest and digest’ functions of our body.

Yoga also affects our neurotransmitters. Through deep breathing, we can produce dopamine, which stimulates the reward centres of our brain. This suggests that yoga could potentially have a positive effect on people suffering from addiction. The calming effects of yoga are very noticeable. Part of this reason is the increase in production of GABA, a neurotransmitter that governs our feeling of calmness as well as our ability to sleep for 8 hours unbroken throughout the night.

It’s clear that yoga positively affects our neurophysiology, which as we will now see, results in greater feelings of happiness as we navigate this beautiful thing called life.

 

Mood & Spirit

Suicide is the most significant cause of death in Australian men under the age of 50. This statistic is alarming for anyone who has gone through depression and knew what it means. Yoga played a significant role in me eliminating depression. The central area of our brain that governs fear and anxiety is the amygdala. It’s been shown that meditation can reduce the activity and size of the amygdala after just a few weeks of beginning.

One study involving depressed men of military service said:

“Subjects who participated in the yoga course demonstrated significant decreases in self-reported symptoms of depression and trait anxiety. Changes were also observed in acute mood, with subjects reporting decreased levels of negative mood and fatigue. Finally, there was a trend for higher morning cortisol levels compared to the control.”

The effects are equally positive for healthy women:

“The yoga group showed markedly higher scores in life satisfaction and lower scores in excitability, aggressiveness, openness, emotionality and somatic complaints. Significant differences could also be observed concerning coping with stress and the mood at the end of the experiment. The yoga group had significant higher scores in high spirits and extravertedness.”

It’s been suggested by various teachers that yoga and meditation allow us to tap into deeper levels of creativity and awareness. Cope wrote poetically in his book:

“Concentrated states [of awareness] give us access to the right hemisphere of the brain, which is the sphere of symbols, dreams and archetypes – where a special quality of nonrational, nonlinear wisdom resides. Loss of linear sense of time. Distortions in the proprioceptive sense of the body. The body may seem to get very large, very small, or parts of it disappear altogether.”

These states of consciousness are associated with permanent changes in areas of the brain that enhance equanimity. By practicing yoga, we can experience these profound shifts in happiness, awareness, neurological health and creativity.

 

Immunity

Yoga has been developed to enhance the feelings of wellbeing experienced by the mind but also to strengthen the resilience of the body. Somehow, yogis explored their internal physiology so profoundly that they began to understand the raw power that it can display.

I have written previously about my encounter with the Dutch man Wim Hof and his breathing techniques. After spending 5 weeks at an ashram in the foothills of the Himalayas, I understood that Wim had adapted his methods from the yogic tradition.

Wim’s philosophy is that the spectrum of human existence in geographical terms would have forced some of us to march across arid deserts and others over frozen lakes. Through these disparate climates, our physiology evolved to withstand these extreme environments. Yes, they would have used different clothes and shelter, but the survivors of these tough times may have developed sophisticated breathing and meditation techniques to withstand these climates. It is only through the comfortable modern lifestyle that we have forgotten that we are capable of such feats of resilience.

Wim is fortunate to have the following of Western Science behind him as recent journal articles have come from Europe detailing Wim’s incredible ability to control his immune response to the injection of E. coli toxin lipopolysaccharide (LPS). Wim and his 10 students who learned the technique over 4 days were able to suppress the symptoms of the toxin, while the control group suffered from intense fevers for hours.

The Wim Hof Method (WHM) has been helping sufferers of severe allergies, autoimmune conditions and chronic inflammatory diseases like arthritis. These incredible results are due to the breathing techniques controlling immune regulatory cytokines. Pro-inflammatory cytokines, TNF-α, IL-6, and IL-8, are significantly lower in people performing WHM, while anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-10 and epinephrine are increased rapidly during “intermittent respiratory alkalosis”. The researchers conclude “we demonstrate that voluntary activation of the sympathetic nervous system results in epinephrine release and subsequent suppression of the innate immune response in humans in vivo. These results could have important implications for the treatment of conditions associated with excessive or persistent inflammation, such as autoimmune diseases.”

Other studies outside of WHM, in typical Hatha Yoga practice, have demonstrated increased levels of antioxidant enzymes & glutathione activity and also an enhanced regulation of white blood cells. From this, we can assume that we are less likely to get sick from the common cold and suffer from chronic illness. It is evident, yoga and it’s associated practices have an incredible effect on the body’s immune system and tolerance of extreme environments.

Respiration

It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that something that focuses so heavily on breathing could enhance your respiratory system. But to dive into some of the how’s is still interesting. In yoga, there is a focus to lengthen and deepen the breath rather than using short, shallow breaths like we do when lifting heavy weights. The focus is on expansion and softness, rather than tension and tightness.

The many ways yogis breathe.

  • Abdominal breathing
  • 3 Part Yogic Breath
  • Anuloma Viloma (Alternate nostril breathing)
  • Kapalabhati (Shining Skull Breath)
  • Kumbhaka (Breath retention)
  • Bhastrika  (Bellows Breath)
  • Brahmaree (Humming)
  • Ujayi (Conquerer’s breath)
  • Chandra bhedi (Lunar breathing)
  • Surya bhedi (Solar breathing)

Pranayama is a Sanskrit word we use for breath work that means life force without restraint. Yogi’s believe that breath is life and the way in which we use our breath can dictate so much about the way we navigate through this world. If it is short and fast, our mind is quick and agitated; If it is deep and slow, the mind is calm and content. There are a few simple explanations for this. Firstly, when our diaphragm contracts and pushes our abdominal organs down and out, this triggers our major parasympathetic nerve, the Vagus nerve. The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) comprises of our rest and digest facilities, making us calm and relaxed. Secondly, when we breathe deep, we deliver more oxygen to the tissues throughout the body and in particular, the brain. When the brain has oxygen, we are happy.

Another way yogi’s increase oxygen delivery is, counter-intuitively, by holding the breath. The Bohr Effect says that when carbon dioxide levels rise in the blood, there is faster delivery of oxygen from the blood into the surrounding tissues. To capitalise on this, we breathe a lot for a short period (1-5 minutes), then hold the breath. After increasing oxygen levels, we increase carbon dioxide and force more oxygen out of the bloodstream and into the tissues. Side note: To trigger the PNS, we hold the breath out; To trigger the sympathetic nervous system, we hold the breath in.

By drawing out the expiration, we also feel a more profound sense of relaxation through the PNS. This is one of the reasons we perform Ujjayi breath throughout the class. Yes, it sounds like the ocean, or Darth Vader, which is nice, but this foundational technique is used to create presence, focus and calmness throughout the entire yoga practice. If you don’t do it because it feels silly or uncomfortable, I highly encourage you to go all out for just one class and notice if you feel any different. Another way of drawing out the exhalation is by humming. Brahmaree pranayama is used to soften the mind and muscles through the release of nitric oxide. We breathe in deeply and hum like a honey bee for as long as we comfortably can. In more advanced practices, we can hum for the entire class. It’s a trip!

Through breathing techniques, we can strengthen the breathing muscles, namely the diaphragm and intercostal muscles, which can allow us to breathe deeper and more comfortable at rest. If you have ever felt short of breath or tight in the chest due to stress or even anxiety, you have lost full control over your respiratory muscles… you have lost control of your life. Get back in control by first focusing on the breath. Practice these techniques until I tell you to stop.

 

Digestion

According to Dr Mario Martinez, author and longevity scientist, 75% of busy executives have gastrointestinal disorders. You don’t need me to tell you that’s a lot. What is the likely link? Stress.

Your central nervous system interacts with another nervous system located in your gut: The enteric nervous system. Yep, your gut pretty much has its brain. You have experienced this connection before – those butterflies in your stomach are caused by an emotional response. To separate the mind and body would be ridiculous.

Cortisol affects the gut in many ways.

  • Decreased nutrient absorption
  • Decreased oxygenation of the gut
  • Reduced blood flow – as much as 400% less
  • Reduced enzymatic output – as much as 20,000 fold

A chronic elevation of our primary stress hormone, cortisol has been linked to many chronic gastrointestinal disorders. Crohn’s disease, IBS, Ulcerative colitis, Bowel cancers to name a few. Stress affects the gut in many ways, including disruption of bacteria & gut hormones and increased intestinal permeability (leaky gut).

How then does yoga prevent this damage from occurring? By interrupting it at the source. By affecting the neurochemistry, we jeopardise the gut chemistry. This does not mean we can eat a whole pile of gluten, sugar, alcohol and conventional dairy products. With a healthy diet, yoga can help alleviate many chronic digestive conditions. I know from experience, whenever I’m more stressed, my guts don’t function as well.

If you’re taking care of your nutrition, pay attention here. A simple yoga practice incorporating backbends, forward bends, twisting and side-bending, coupled with breathing and meditation could be the answer to your unhappy guts.

 

I have explored nearly the entire human body and its relationship with the ancient practice of yoga. The research doesn’t stop here. As the West aligns more and more with the East, studies will continue to pop up and prove that what was developed thousands of years ago may be all we need to be happy, healthy and robust.

I hope that what I’ve illustrated is reason enough to practice yoga. With the reduction of many of the most significant killers in the Western World as well as the increase in feelings of happiness and general life satisfaction, it is evident to me that yoga should be a lifelong practice for most people. I wonder if the entire world could maintain a regular yoga practice, what kind of place it would be.

References:

  • Cope, S. The wisdom of yoga: A seekers guide to extraordinary living. (2007). Bantam Publishing.
  • The Art of Living. The Science behind Yoga (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.artofliving.org/yoga/yoga-for-beginners/science-behind-yoga
  • Woolery, A., Myers, H., Sternlieb, B., Zeltzer, L. A yoga intervention for young adults with elevated symptoms of depression. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine10.2 (Mar/Apr 2004): 60-3. Retrieved from http://crawl.prod.proquest.com.s3.amazonaws.com/fpcache/344413c890b7f879f2e9bd0d71586c18.pdf?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAJF7V7KNV2KKY2NUQ&Expires=1476610487&Signature=6hDqV%2F2MjfaBq6Bu%2BcDdC5rlsz0%3D
  • Manchanda S.C., Narang R., Reddy K.S., Sachdeva U., Prabhakaran D., Dharmanand S., Rajani M., Bijlani R. (2000). Retardation of coronary atherosclerosis with yoga lifestyle intervention. The Journal of the Association of Physicians of India 48(7):687-694
  • Bernardi L., Sleight P., Bandinelli G., Cencetti, S., et al. (2001). Effect of rosary prayer and yoga mantras on autonomic cardiovascular rhythms: Comparative study. British Medical Journal, International edition. 1446-9.
  • School F.J., Allolio B., Schonecke O.W. (1994). Physiological and psychological effects of Hatha-Yoga exercise in healthy women. International Journal of Psychosomatics : Official Publication of the International Psychosomatics Institute 41(1-4) 46-52
  • What are brainwaves? (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.brainworksneurotherapy.com/what-are-brainwaves
  • Sanchari S., Som N.S., Monga Y.P., Uday S.R. (2007). Improvement of Glutathione and Total Antioxidant Status with Yoga. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. Vol. 13, No. 10: 1085-1090
  • Koxa M., Van Eijka L., Zwaage J., Van den Wildenberga J., Fred C. Sweepd G.J, Van der Hoevena J.G., Pickkersa P. (2013). Voluntary activation of the sympathetic nervous system and attenuation of the innate immune response in humans. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA. Retrieved from http://www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1322174111
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The Great Ocean Road Retreat | 24-26 Nov 2017

There’s likely to be only a few moments in your life that you realise you are doing what you want to be doing. A potent mix of nervousness and excitement leads you to be entirely in the present moment and you feel joyful that everything is just the way it is.

 

This is how I felt on the much anticipated weekend retreat that I led along with my fellow men, Mark Kluwer and Kane Johnson.

 

Truth be told this project had been in full swing since April – but on a much grander scale. We were sincerely considering buying 200 acres of World Heritage land in Northern New South Wales to build our retreat facility. Mark was a builder, and we had some life savings – what could go wrong?

 

At what seemed to be the very last minute, we had hesitation and decided we should try run a few retreats beforehand. Thankfully, we listened to the anxiety in our guts and agreed to take baby steps together.

 

Almost every week after that, we carefully and excitedly crafted what would be our first retreat, held at the historic Seacroft retreat centre on The Great Ocean Road: A characteristic old monastery, surrounded by the wild ocean of the Bass Strait.

 

25 men, 1 weekend. This is our story.

 

 

Once we all arrived and settled into our rooms, at 6:00 pm we gathered into the tastefully restored chapel for a meet and greet. Kane made the introductions to the group and highlighted the purpose for this weekend. He articulated our intentions perfectly, and I was so grateful to be sitting beside him as a friend and a teammate on this journey.

 

A little about Kane: After retiring from a 15 year AFL career, which included two premiership wins with Adelaide and captaincy at Richmond, he embarked on an exploration to find a balance between the physical, mental and spiritual, leading him to travel to China to spend time with Shaolin Monks. While there he found his new passion: studying and practising the ancient self-healing practice of Qigong. It’s clear that Kane is now inspired to create a space for others to develop themselves on a physical, personal and spiritual level.

 

We passed the footy around and each of us articulated who we are and what we were seeking by attending the retreat – it was an honour to witness so many blokes immediately open up from the heart. There were some nerves, as most of us (including Mark, Kane & I) didn’t know what to expect for the weekend. But we felt an immediate sense of trust and a lot of excitement about what was in store for the next couple days.

 

Some of us were seeking profound personal transformation, some wanted to test themselves, and others just wanted a weekend away from the busy churn of emails and phone calls.

 

As for me – I wanted to fulfil a dream I’d had for over five years: To create a profound weekend for a group of human beings to reconnect with themselves, with others and with nature.

 

Kane, with his deep understanding and complete presence, led the team through some Qi Gong to help us and settle into the area. With some light movement flowing with the breath and the energy in the room began to thicken.

 

Already we felt a connection to one another. Whatever happens this weekend, we are brothers. We stood there, breathing; some stillness and calm before the proverbial storm of tomorrow.

 

The boys were hungry, and it was dinner time, so Henry – our star chef from the Fitzroy famous restaurant, Industry Beans – delivered with incredibly healthy and delicious food, not just for this meal but the entire weekend.

 

A few of the stand-outs were slow cooked beef and Korean kimchi lettuce cups for dinner; pulled lamb with slaw and quinoa for lunch; eggs with field mushrooms and sautéed spinach on paleo toast for breakfast; all meals were gluten-free with vegan options and Man Alive approved. Bellies were full, and smiles were broad.

 

We then celebrated our first meal together by walking down to the beach for a twilight swim. The tide was out and the clouds were putting on a show. There was intense excitement as we all felt like this was already a spectacular weekend to be. Some tribal circle war cries and a few fist bumps ensued before walking back home for the next activity.

 

 

Before sending the men off to a restful sleep, we recollected into the chapel for a session of Yoga Nidra. I sat there in a candlelit hall, with soft music playing as the men walked in and laid down on their mats. I had an enormous grin on my face and was so appreciative of this moment.

 

Some collective breathing and bringing the attention to specific points of the body encouraged the frequency of brain waves to drift from beta to theta. Calmness entered the room and then the Swedish masseuse, Lars, began to snore. Mark giggled. Then the whole room erupted in laughter – full belly howling laughter – for several minutes. We settled back down and then some more snoring and laughing and then sleeping. It was time for bed.

 

The next morning we woke up to some Hatha yoga with breath (pranayama), posture (asana), sound (mantra), and meditation (dhyana). It was my first time teaching only men, many of whom had never done any form of yoga before. Everyone seemed to enjoy the effects of breathing and moving the body as a group, especially first thing in the morning. After 90 minutes of yoga, my body feels open and free while my mind feels more centred, calm and happier. It was a great way to start the day, before breakfast and a morning swim in the ocean.

 

 

Anticipation grew for the late-morning activity when Mark took over. Mark attended a Wim Hof retreat in 2016, which changed the trajectory of his life. Wim’s motto of Strength, Health and Happiness lit a fire in Mark, and now he is on a mission to do the same for others. Since then, Mark has become a certified Master Wim Hof Method Instructor and has been dedicated to helping people from all walks of life experience the innate power they hold within them.

 

It was now time to go deep together with a full hour of The Wim Hof Method, led by one of the most passionate people on the planet.

 

After a brief introduction to the method and the man behind it, the boys laid down and made themselves comfortable to go within. The music started playing.

 

Four rounds of 50 breaths deep and the energy in the room was palpable. Kane and I were there to help the men if needed but found ourselves becoming quite emotional. Even without doing the breathwork – by just being in the room with others who were – we too were ‘getting high on our own supply’. Mark did an incredible job at creating a safe space and ensuring correct breathing technique, so no one was at risk.

 

On the sixth and final round, and 55 minutes later of controlled hyperventilation, the boys took a deep inhale and rolled over to perform as many pushups as possible to generate heat through the body and witness how much oxygen had been packed into every cell of the body.

 

A big exhale, and the room fell still… The music softly played, and for many minutes, we lay there – just feeling.

 

Bringing that moment to mind now makes me emotional as I remember how powerful it felt to be there. It was indeed humbling, and words really cannot describe it.

 

 

After an inspiring and motivational speech from Mark, it was time to test ourselves and jump in the ice. Two hundred, 5-kilogram bags of ice sat outside and needed to be put into an eight-man pool.

 

It was a cold day, and the wind blew from the Antarctic, which didn’t help the confidence, but the men were ready and eager to see what they were made of. The majority of blokes had never experienced a one-degree ice bath before, and so after some instruction, the first group jumped in. It was a huge success with everyone sitting in cold water for at least 2 minutes, most reached the 5-minute mark.

 

The mind is the weakest link while immersed in near-zero waters.

 

Once you start to let the cold creep in, you’re done. To allow yourself shiver in the first few minutes is a choice and a dangerous one at that. If you wish to take on the ice, make sure you have someone trained in guiding people through it. Permanent nerve damage, hypothermia and drowning are real threats so please don’t do it by yourself. Mark is now offering private sessions in Melbourne if you’re keen to experience it for the first time, or are merely wanting to go deeper than you could by yourself.

 

 

After lunch, we gave the boys free time to rest and reflect on the experience of the morning. Some journaled and read, others chatted and drank tea together deepening the relationships that were naturally unfolding.

 

At 5:00 we ventured down to the beach for a movement practice. It had been raining heavily but sporadically for most of the afternoon, but we decided to chance it and embrace whatever came. With lightning sparking out over the ocean we walked along the sand to get moving despite Nick’s concern that “the beach is the worst place to be in a thunderstorm.”

 

First a little bit of lower body mobility training to remove the fear of getting sandy. We partnered up and played a few games before Kane and Mark brought a 20-metre long rope for a championship round of Tug o’ War with Kane’s team taking out the title. Better luck next time, Mark. We then played some Ido Portal inspired contact improvisation to develop a better sense of communication through movement and understanding of one another and our limitations of movement. This was a favourite for many of us as we freely moved in the rain and sand along a vast expanse of beach with no one else around and a free light show over the ocean. To finish with meditation, I invited the men to stand ankle deep in the water to gaze out over the ocean, completely still, just observing nature in its rawness.

 

 

As we wandered back to Seacroft, I received a few comments about how incredible the last few days were. I agreed with them that it had already been an epic experience for me too then reminded them that it had only been 23 hours since we arrived. I believe that time began to slow down as we formed meaningful connections with complete strangers, learned to breathe, meditate and move our bodies and of course, disconnected from our mobile devices to reconnect with nature. All these things together allow us to be much more present, which makes it feel like time is stretched out. I wondered how we could bring this state of being back home when we departed.

 

That night we huddled away from the rain in the chapel to participate in one of our now famous Man Night’s. We split off into three groups to connect on a slightly more in-depth level by going around the circle and simply answering the question “What’s going on for you at the moment?”. It’s a beautiful thing that happens when a group of men trust and listen to each other for a few hours.

 

After doing this for over a year, I’ve found that I receive the most clarity and benefit from listening to other people’s stories, rather than sharing my own. One of the men on the retreat was a good friend, Josh Komen, who has an incredible story of battling cancer and graft vs host disease for the last seven years. Josh is currently writing a book about his journey, and I encourage everyone to check it out when it is released.

 

Ultimately when you hear Josh speak, you remember that your health and your loved ones are all that matter. It strips away the competitor bullshit that so easily creeps into our lives, and you’re left with what makes you happy.

 

It was great hearing everyone’s story – their wins, their struggles, their dreams and their past. We find these conversations to be so enriching and so we allowed some time for everyone to write down some insights and reflections from the group conversation into their journal. We concluded the evening with a meditation, before walking off for a sound night’s sleep.

 

We began the next morning with another exploration into hatha yoga, this time picking up the tempo and going a little bit deeper into the body and the breath. I wanted to encourage the opening of the body and the lungs, preparing them for the next breath work session with Mark.

 

It was the first time we’ve ever moved from 90 minutes of yoga straight into an intense session of The Wim Hof Method – but we’re all about exploring the boundaries and what was the worst that could happen anyway?

 

This time, Mark laid the mats beside each other to encourage a bond between us all. It was his most intense session ever. Afterwards, he invited all of us to hold hands while we were lying down to feel the connection between one other. We continued to breathe while visualising who we could become as our strongest, most authentic self.

 

 We then all stood up and it was time for a group huddle with all the men, arm in arm, entirely focused on Marks heart-felt words. Looking each and every one of us straight in the eyes, his central message was to feel love for self, others and the world around us. With raw emotion, the whole group started jumping and repeatedly roaring the word ‘Love’.

 

With hearts open and smiles from ear, to ear, we ate our last meal together. Spirits were high as we shared our experiences of the weekend and what life was going to be like once we left. We felt empowered to take on any challenge that lay before us back home.

 

We felt excited and supported to venture back out into our own lives and have the impact that all of us desire to have in the world around us.

 

As a group, we sat together one last time in the chapel to reflect as a group. The closing circle was ceremonial and at the same time a celebration. In one weekend all of us felt reborn into a stronger, more fully alive self. We passed the footy around and shared our most memorable moments of the weekend and what we wanted to take back home with us. Some of us wanted to continue the breathing practice, some wanted to start moving more, and others felt a greater appreciation for their family – to return home to be a more loving father and husband.

 

It was amazing to me that so much change could happen in less than 48 hours. It’s a testament to the energy of the people there as well as the profound effectiveness of the techniques and practices that we explored.

 

Mark, Kane and I were truly blown away by the willingness and openness of all the men who joined us for such a life-changing weekend. A brotherhood had formed, which I believe is so essential for the physical, spiritual and mental health of all men in this generation. This type of connection is in desperate need among so many of us, myself included. These connections contribute so much to what gives our life purpose and meaning. They support and encourage us to be our best selves in all of life’s situations.

 

This weekend was indeed a dream come true for me. After many thoughtful conversations with Mark and Kane, it’s clear that it was for them too. We are currently working on our next venture together, and after much discussion about what was great and what could be improved, we are excited to announce we will be delivering an unforgettable retreat experience in June 2018. Who’s in?


To join us for the next adventure June 22-24 on the Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, visit: https://www.humanitix.com/event/mornington-peninsula-mens-retreat-iluka/

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9 Traits to Look for When Hiring A Coach

The personal training industry has one of the highest staff turnovers in any industry. All reasons aside, this illustrates how important it is for you to choose the right coach to help you embark on your fitness journey.

 

I’ve distilled the exceptional personal trainer into 9 definite traits. Here they are.

 

  1. They Walk the Talk

 

A coach that tells you to eat chicken breast and broccoli without the dressing is poor. A coach that says that & eat McDonald’s on their lunch break is even worse. Every waking moment for a coach is a chance to be a role model for the public. We are responsible for helping people reach their health and fitness goals, which you achieve through proper nutrition, mindset and movement. If us coaches were to be visibly fit & healthy yet not train consistently or eat nutritious food (yes, this is possible), then what kind of example does that set for our clients and potential clients?

 

  1. They Perform a Comprehensive Assessment

 

We are legally required to ask you health-related questions to determine if you are fit enough to exercise. This is the bare minimum! If your coach does not perform a biomechanics assessment to determine your tightness and weaknesses in your body, how can they really design a ‘personalised’ program for you? Does your coach go the extra mile with the help of a doctor and get your blood tests done? There are so many variables to consider when designing an exercise and nutritional program. The best coaches will collect as much data on your body & mind as possible to make sure they are making the right decisions.

 

  1. They Get Results

 

This doesn’t only pertain to body composition. Before and after images are great but it makes sense that a coach would ask you about your goals considering the full spectrum of health and fitness. Ask yourself, if your coach has a six pack, but they suffer chronic anxiety, would you trade places with them? Their results are not only for themselves but also their clients. Be aware that most coaches will have one or two customers with incredible results but can they consistently get their clients from where they are to where they want to be?

 

  1. They Have Great Communication Skills

 

Humans communicate their thoughts and feelings in very complex ways and the gym is an environment where interpretations can be skewed even more. It’s important that your coach makes you feel safe, so you express yourself… and they listen. There is plenty of information online on how to get fit and healthy. So then, why is it so hard? A strong relationship is created between coach and student and this can only form with excellent communication skills.

 

  1. They Are Inspiring

 

I’m not interested in being put up on your wall muscly, oiled up & wrapped in a leopard print rug. I’m talking about a combination of walking the talk and allowing you to align with your vision correctly. You don’t need a guilt-trip into behaving properly; you need to be inspired to do so.

 

  1. They Consistently Educate

 

A Certificate III & IV is just the beginning of becoming a great personal trainer. There is a myriad of upskilling courses available for fitness professionals, so it’s important their certifications line up with your interests. If you only want to learn gymnastics, don’t go to a kettlebell instructor. Your coach needs to attend a professional development course at least once each year and is also reading, listening and researching the best literature in the world in their spare time.

 

  1. They Have A Sound Moral Compass

 

Taking shortcuts is rife in the fitness industry. A collection of before and after photos on a website is the be all and end all for some coaches. The question remains, how did they achieve these results? If they require ingesting dangerous fat-burners, starving themselves or performing countless burpees then maybe that’s not the long-term approach you’re looking for. A coach should also not lose themselves in gym politics or gossip, and they should not try to ‘win’ you from another trainer. Ethics is important if you’re going to be on a journey of vulnerability and trust.

 

  1. They Embody Professionalism

 

Embodying professionalism means being punctual. It means having respect for your personal space, your body and your emotional state. Professionalism is dressing correctly and leaving foul language outside. It means communicating properly through email & phone and not scrolling Facebook during your personal training session! I’m talking about being able to give 100% of their attention to you and your needs in an honourable manner. Professionalism is a character trait that’s hard to teach so choose your coach wisely.

 

  1. They Care

 

All of the above traits culminate into this. Do they really care that you achieve the results you want on a safe, respectful and fun journey? When you come to them after a stressful life situation, you want them to have empathy and compassion. You want them to wear their heart on their sleeve and have a real human connection with you!

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7 Reasons to Move that Don’t Include Getting Jacked

Since homo sapien first saw it’s reflection in a body of water, it’s been obsessed with its self-image. Now that body of water is our phone, and we carry it everywhere we go, on standby for the perfect selfie to upload onto the ‘gram. The fitness industry is the worst culprit for self-obsessed image-manic mind games. From bodybuilding competitions to before and after photo marketing campaigns, we take the crown for body dysmorphia exploitation.

 

I’d like to change all that by giving you some reasons to move your body and forget about how to make your abs visible, arms to grow larger or thighs to become skinnier.

 

  1. You meet incredible people

A community is paramount. From plunging into an ice bath to practicing movement, I encourage people to get to know each other through a little bit of adversity. After all, that’s how great bonds are formed, when you and I go into battle together, we share a connection of trust and admiration. As I describe in my book, Man Alive, a community is one of the most powerful ways to increase your health span (the length of time you are healthy). So use your exercise routine as a means to strengthen bonds with someone you care about or find a way to meet new people doing something you enjoy!

 

  1. You feel unstoppable

After a hard work out, whether it be a 5km swim or lifting a personal record in a workout, the sense of achievement is immense. The combined psychological and physiological effects of exercise on your brain are very noticeable. Science has shown that just 1 week of not exercising reduces dopamine and serotonin levels in the brain. You begin to lose motivation and feel a general lack of fulfillment. By moving your body in vigorous activity, you commit yourself to a routine and enhance vital neuro-chemicals in your brain.

 

  1. Your body functions better

From your digestive system to your lymphatic system, there isn’t one physiological system that is not affected by exercise. It’s well known that exercise enhances your cardiovascular system and respiratory system, but just as profound (and probably more noticeable) are the benefits to your digestion, immunity, and brain function. Instead of scaring you into exercising by touting the obvious consequences of stroke, heart attack, Alzheimer’s disease, I feel it’s important to articulate how GOOD your body can feel if you do exercise.

 

  1. You live longer

A US study examining 654,000 people showed that a healthy population who exercise on average live 7.2 years longer than their overweight non-exercising peers (1). That could be the difference between being a great-grandparent or not. There is no pill on earth that can boast that kind of effect on longevity and it’s free.

 

  1. You become smarter

Exercise can help you learn faster, be more creatively and solve problems more efficiently. Much of this effect is due to a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) (2). This chemical causes new brain cells to grow and prevents older ones from dying! This increase in BDNF is also accompanied by improved cognitive performance scores. When we exercise, we get an increase in blood flow and oxygen to the brain. Learning new movement patterns have been shown to be one of the most effective ways to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. As I have mentioned before, a dancer may learn up to 400 new movements in an audition setting. These new neural networks create a much faster and more efficient brain.

 

  1. You become more physically able

There aren’t too many better feelings than lifting 100kg off the floor for the first time. This level of strength is available to almost anyone with a little practice. If you have strength, maybe it’s time to work on mobility. If you have both, begin to use your abilities in more creative ways such as dance or calisthenics. Fortunately or unfortunately, there is never a finish line with movement. There is always something to develop or refine in the quest to create your best body. These abilities translate into real life. Can you carry 30kg of grocery shopping home without a car? Can play with your kids in the backyard all afternoon? These are very real scenarios that require you to be fit and healthy.

 

  1. You sleep deeper

One of the most common complaints I hear is that people have problems sleeping soundly. Exercise has been shown to balance the circadian rhythm and improve neurochemicals that aid in sleep, like serotonin. It’s best not to exercise too late in the evening as the creation of epinephrine and norepinephrine may keep you up. One my favourite ways to combat jet lag is barefoot yoga in the park. If you find yourself a night owl or even someone with insomnia, try to exercise at least 4 hours per week and see if that makes a difference.

 

If you want to base your happiness on the aesthetics of your decaying body, then you are destined for failure at some point. It’s best to control what you can, like your strength, health, and happiness to live a more fulfilling life. Whether you’re in the gym, on the track, in the pool or on the mat, don’t compare your looks against the person next to you. Just remind yourself why you are really there – because you enjoy it!

 

References:

Moore, S., et al. (2012). Leisure Time Physical Activity of Moderate to Vigorous Intensity and Mortality: A Large Pooled Cohort Analysis. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001335

Ferris, L.T., Williams, J.S., Shen, C.L. (2007). The effect of acute exercise on serum brain-derived neurotrophic factor levels and cognitive function. Medical Science Sports Exercise. Retried from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17414812

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The Essential Supplement For The Busy Life

There are as many health products in the world as there are opinions about which ones to take. How do you, the dedicated wellness wayfarer, navigate the landscapes of the supplement industry to discover what you actually need to live life to the fullest?

 

This one supplement will help with

 

  • Reducing inflammation
  • Hormone optimisation
  • Stress reduction
  • Muscle contractility and recovery
  • Metabolism and fat loss
  • Bone density
  • Immunity
  • Nutrient absorption
  • And so much more!

 

I know, it sounds too good to be true.

 

But it’s not.

 

Carefully selected and properly used supplements can really give you the edge when it comes to complete wellness. However, there’s one supplement that is nearly always overlooked, and it may, in fact, be the most important supplement of all…

 

Magnesium is King

 

From the ancient heroes of Homer’s Greek Odyssey to Ponce de León’s legendary supposed discovery of the “Fountain of Youth”, magnesium baths have long been thought as a key health support system.

 

The ancient practices of salt bathing most likely came from the relaxing benefits of magnesium.  Magnesium has a potent destressing effect by reducing the stress hormone cortisol. It is especially effective immediately after exercise for reducing the cortisol spike typically seen during physical activity and stress.

 

By reducing this cortisol spike efficiently post-workout, we initiate the recovery mechanisms and reduce post-exercise inflammation. This can be an effective method for building lean muscle, boosting fat loss, reducing DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness) and also the risk of chronic injury1.

 

Good Magnesium, Good Night

 

Magnesium also makes a powerful sleep-inducing agent. 400-800mg of magnesium taken 3-4 hours before bed can significantly reduce the time it takes to fall asleep and also improve your quality of sleep2.

 

If you often find yourself in a stressed state or have trouble shutting off at night, you likely fit into the 68% of the population who do not meet the government’s recommended daily magnesium intake (310mg to 420mg)3 – which is still much less than our recommendation!

 

Life Extension Magazine proposes, “If this population who are magnesium deficient took corrective action, the need for many of these prescription drugs would be reduced.”(3)

 

Optimize Sex Hormones

 

Magnesium supplementation reduces cortisol by actually boosting the hormone dehydroepiandrosterone or DHEA (4).

 

DHEA is the master steroid hormone and is the most abundant steroid hormone in the body. It’s produced by the adrenal glands (attached to your kidneys) and has an enormous set of functions including being a precursor to testosterone and estrogen.

 

With optimal DHEA levels, we buffer cortisol effectively while also regulating optimal testosterone and estrogen levels. An enormous number of men experience the unwelcome symptoms accompanying testosterone deficiency while the majority of women could benefit from better regulation of their monthly cycle.

 

Synthetic estrogens in environmental toxins and a high-stress lifestyle mean we need to supplement our body wherever we can; a magnesium supplement is a very effective, broad-scope everyday attack on these ills.

 

Throw Out Your Ibuprofen

 

Magnesium supplementation reduces inflammation and enhances the body’s ability to handle environmental stress. Specifically, studies have shown that magnesium supplementation can have a powerful effect against inflammation by boosting the immune system in individuals with digestive disorders and metabolic problems5 8.

 

Typical over the counter anti-inflammatory drugs always have adverse effects on your gut and liver.  This is because non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can increase intestinal permeability, which we will talk about later.

 

A magnesium supplement, however, can reduce inflammation throughout the body, boosting the effectiveness of our cardiovascular system and allowing blood flow smoothly through vessels8.

 

Stoke The Metabolic Fire

 

Insulin sensitivity is very important for optimal health. Being the clever cookie you are, you’ve no doubt guessed that magnesium supplementation can improve this vital component of fat loss for individuals with a deficiency6.

 

Remember, we learned before that you are likely one of those individuals.

 

By allowing better uptake of insulin into the cell we can better utilize the sugars in our food. This means we store less fat, have more energy and reduce our risk of diabetes and other metabolic diseases.

 

Build a Resilient Framework

 

By optimising calcium absorption, magnesium increases bone density and reduces the risk of fractures, especially as we age. Supplementing with magnesium helps to keep minerals such as calcium in the bony matrix, and has been shown to prevent osteoporosis7. Pair a magnesium supplement with strength training and you have yourself one durable bone structure!

 

Rejuvenate Your Nervous System

 

This essential mineral is now being understood as a preventative measure for neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.   With over 330,000 Australians suffering from dementia, this is a big issue!

 

An essential component of nerve signaling is… spot the trend… magnesium! It serves as a building block for our neurotransmitters, specifically, dopamine. This means every decision we make and every muscle contraction we have, is influenced by magnesium.

 

Magnesium actually promotes learning and memory as a result of its beneficial effect on synaptic plasticity and density11. Basically, it increases the number and efficiency of the connections of every one of your nerves. So with optimal magnesium levels and superhuman nerve transmission who knows what we are capable of!

 

Along with its beneficial effect on DNA protection, magnesium supplementation maintains the health of every cell in your body. Support your cells. Supplement magnesium.

 

If you’d like any more info on magnesium supplementation (or any supplementation for that reason), have a chat with us and we’ll get you on the path to wellness.

 

References:

  1. Golf S.W., Happel O., Graef V., Seim K.E. Plasma aldosterone, cortisol and electrolyte concentrations in physical exercise after magnesium supplementation. Journal of Clinical Chemistry & Clinical Biochemistry 1984: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6527092
  2. Abbasi et al. The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Journal of Research in Medical Science 2012: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3703169/#sec1-3title
  3. Faloon W. How many Americans are magnesium deficient? Life Extension Magazine 2005: http://www.lef.org/magazine/2005/9/awsi/Page-01
  4. Mike Mahler. Testosterone is great but is dihydrotestosterone the king of all male androgens? Aggressive Strength. n.d.: http://www.mikemahler.com/online-library/articles/hormone-optimization/dihydrotestosterone-king-of-male-androgens.html
  5. King D., Mainous, A.G., Geesy M.E., Egan B.M., Rehman S. Magnesium supplement intake and C-reactive protein levels in adults. Nutrition Research Journal 2006: http://www.nrjournal.com/article/S0271-5317%2806%2900092-3/abstract?cc=y
  6. Rodriguez-Moran M. Guerrero-Romero F. Oral magnesium supplementation improves the metabolic profile of metabolically obese, normal-weight individuals: a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Archives of Medical Research 2014: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24830937
  7. Castiglioni S., Cazzaniga A., Albisetti W., Maier J.A.M. Magnesium and osteoporosis: current state of knowledge and future research directions. Nutrients 2013: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3775240/
  8. Kharitonova et al. Comparative angioprotective effects of magnesium compounds. Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine & Biology 2015: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25127069
  9. Alessio M. Novel magnesium compound reverses neurodegeneration. Life Extension Magazine 2012: http://www.lef.org/magazine/2012/2/Novel-Magnesium-Compound-Reverses-Neurodegeneration/Page-01
  10. Magnesium benefits. Ancient Minerals website. N.d.: http://www.ancient-minerals.com/magnesium-benefits/
  11. Jahnen-Dechent W., Ketteler M. Magnesium basics. Clinical Kidney Journal 2012: http://ckj.oxfordjournals.org/content/5/Suppl_1/i3.full
  12. Niemn, D.C. et al. (2006). Ibuprofen use, endotoxemia, inflammation, and plasma cytokines during ultramarathon competition. Brain Behaviour Immunology, 20(6):578-84. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0889159106000328
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Japanese Wisdom – How Nature Can Restore Your Health

The following is Chapter 7 of my new book, Man Alive: Free your mind. Reclaim your health. Discover your true nature. The book is available on Amazon and other major retailers. Click here for more details.

 

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better”.
– Albert Einstein

 

In the early 1980s, a radical idea was put forth to the country of Japan that would revolutionise their health care philosophy. This proposal was so far-out that it took over 15 years for medical journals to catch up. It would be one of the greatest discoveries in preventative medicine of all time. This radical concept is known as forest bathing. It seems like common sense, but forest bathing, otherwise known as shinrin-yoku, which translates to “taking in the forest atmosphere”, is now medically recognised as having profoundly healing effects on human physiology(28,29). That’s right, spending time in nature is good for you. Some of the significant healing effects of shinrin-yoku include:

  1. Reduced cortisol levels(30).
  2. Improved sight and hearing(31).
  3. Boosting the immune system(31).
  4. Reducing pulse rate and blood pressure(29).
  5. Reducing cerebral hyperactivity(29).
  6. Improved focus and concentration(29).
  7. Decreased inflammation(31).
  8. Improved sleep(30).
  9. Increased pain tolerance(31).

The above list of benefits nearly includes – either directly or indirectly – most physiological processes in the body. There is likely not one part of you that does not benefit from spending time in nature. Let’s dive a little deeper into why this might be the case by exploring what happens to your body when you take in the forest air.

When we gaze amongst clouds, the ocean, rustling leaves or toward a campfire, our eyes tend to dance from one unfocused frame of motion to another. Staring upon these natural phenomena is mesmerising. How many times have you been able to stare into the world of fire for minutes on end without blinking? The reason for this is because your eyes cannot focus, and the muscles that control your eye’s lens can relax, which also allows your brain activity to slow down. A reduction in brain waves has been shown to improve cognitive function and concentration and lead to greater feelings of happiness(32).

The natural world is loudest during the morning inside a rain forest at about 32 decibels. If you’ve ever woken up deep in the jungles of Asia or Latin America, you would know how terrifyingly loud this can be. Even more terrifying is that most anthropogenic (human-made) noises, especially in cities, are between 80-120 decibels. This noise is many times louder than our ears have evolved with and can lead to chronic cortisol overload and hypertonic muscles. This can create an excessively tight jaw and abdomen, and somewhat more obviously, permanent hearing damage(31).

When walking in the forest, there is that distinct smell of living, breathing plant biosphere. One of these smells is a group of chemicals known as phytoncides. Plants produce phytoncides to ward off insects, but science has discovered that these natural ‘pesticides’ actually enhance the functions of our immune system, specifically our natural killer cells(28). Just 12-hours spent in the forest can increase the number of natural killer cells in circulation for up to 7 days afterwards(29). These immune cells are known for fighting off cancerous and precancerous cells. There are also immune boosting parasites and bacteria that thrive on the living matter of trees and in the dirt.

The immune regulating effects continue.  While walking in the forest, our body reduces the number of pro-inflammatory cytokines such as interleukin-6 (IL-6) and TNF-alpha(29). Chronically elevated levels of these cytokines, or chemical messengers, are associated with chronic inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

Taking it a step further, there is the option to get slightly more intimate with nature via barefoot walking.  You would likely do this on the beach, but in the forest, it’s much rarer to see someone take off their hiking boots and trudge through the woods. After all, there are snakes, and it is terribly dirty.

Unfortunately, though, you’re not allowing your feet to connect directly with the earth. This connection between foot and floor is where an exchange of electrons occurs. Through the normal physiological process, our body builds up an increased level of electromagnetic charge(31). In tribal times, we were connected with the planet every day, however, in today’s culture, we sometimes don’t get to dump our electromagnetic waste into the earth for a whole day.

In fact, many apartment dwellers in busy cities may not touch their skin with an earthed structure for days on end. Placing your palms and feet on the bare earth can have a tremendously calming effect on your nervous system. This process is known as earthing and has been shown to reduce inflammation, and chronic stress as well as improves sleep and pain tolerance(31).

While growing up in the sunny, active, beachside city of Perth, Western Australia, I would spend the majority of my time outside, totally barefoot. I developed strong skin and muscles on my feet and ankles and grew connected with the earth. I moved to the inner-city Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy, Victoria, where there isn’t a beach for many kilometres, and let’s just say it’s a little more ‘grunge’. Over time my feet became soft and weak, and I had lost much of my connection with nature. Now on trips outside the city, I relish in every opportunity I can to take my shoes off and walk on the bare earth. I encourage you to do the same.

If getting your feet dirty is not your thing, there are sandals called Earth Runners that allow a direct connection between the earth and your feet. To understand this for yourself, next time you are at a picnic in the park or walking on the beach barefoot, pay close attention to how you feel. You may realise a deeper connection to your humanness.

New information will continue to emerge, which tells us that interacting with the biosphere is beneficial to our health. For example, the sun gives us vitamin D, but you can’t  just take a vitamin D pill and get all of the benefits of the sun.   This is because particular types of UV radiation also decrease inflammation and your risk for demyelinating diseases like multiple sclerosis(31). Conversely, when we expose ourselves to chilly weather, our body reacts by contracting the muscles in our skin and the blood vessels beneath. This is the feeling of being alive.

 

We don’t yet know all the benefits of interacting with nature.

 

From the warmth of the sun, the cold of the wind, the water,  or the complete orchestra of nature’s sounds, there are so many possible encounters that your body can have with biology. As eco-biomechanist, Katy Bowman says, “We are missing out on an unquantifiable number of interactions with nature, and our physiology is the worse for it”(31).

I once stood knee deep in the surf of Bondi Beach, New South Wales, Australia, for 20 minutes. I was amongst a group of movement students with the renowned teacher, Ido Portal. We were instructed to stare out into the ocean and try not to move a muscle. “Don’t blink, don’t even swallow,” I remember him saying. As we stood there gazing out onto the crashing waves, time began to disintegrate. I became acutely aware of every sensation of my body from the sounds of kids playing off in the distance, to the sand collapsing beneath my feet. Tears began to fall down my face, and I felt a deep sense of peace wash over me. Nature had taken me in.

I want you to follow the way. I want you to spend more time in nature. Our evolution as humans has seen us develop biological benefits from the flora around us, and we are denying its benefits by distancing ourselves from it. If you live in the city, put it on your calendar to take a few hours on the weekend to venture out to the forest, to the beach or a mountaintop. This reconnection should happen at least once per month. Leave your phone at home or in the car. Go alone, or with friends or family. Take off your shoes and look up at the sky and smile. This is the mysterious phenomenon called life. It is all around you, and it is incredibly healing. All you need to do is engage with it.

 

References:

28. Tsunetsugu, Y., Park, J., & Miyazaki, Y. (2010). Trends in research related to “Shinrin-yoku”(taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing) in Japan. Environmental health and preventive medicine, 15(1), 27.

29. Park, J., Tsunetsugu, Y., Kasetani, T., Kagawa, T., & Miyazaki, Y. (2010). The physiological effects of Shinrin- yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan. Environmental health and preventive medicine, 15(1), 18.

30. Morita,E.,Fukuda,S.,Nagano,J.,Hamajima,N.,Yamamoto, , Iwai, Y., … & Shirakawa, T. (2007). Psychological effects of forest environments on healthy adults: Shinrin-yoku (forest-air bathing, walking) as a possible method of stress reduction. Public health, 121(1), 54-63.

31. Bowman, K., & Lewis, J. (2014). Move Your DNA: Restore Your Health Through Natural Movement. Propriometrics Press.

32. Bratman, G. N., Hamilton, J. , Hahn, K. S., Daily, G. C., & Gross, J. J. (2015). Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation. Proceedings of the national academy of sciences, 112(28), 8567-8572.

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4 Mind-Melting Days with the Iceman, Wim Hof

I am sitting down at my computer, having just completed 30 minutes of breathing like a drowned castaway gasping for air. My mind is clear, fingers tingling and my body warm. I am full of energy and ready to write.

This is The Wim Hof Method…

On August 3rd, myself and three other men, Mark, Joel and Dave, drove along the Great Ocean Road to Airey’s Inlet to participate in 4 days and 5 nights of a unique method of life enhancement developed by a peculiar Dutchman named Wim Hof.

Wim, aged 57, has claimed 26 world records in unrelated feats of human performance. His resume is impressive; climbing 7,500m up Mt. Everest in just his shorts, running a marathon in the Namibia desert without water and even hanging for the longest time from 1 finger, 500m above the earth between two hot air balloons (29 seconds).

At an early age, Wim became fascinated with the cold and began cutting holes into iced lakes to jump in and feel the immense effect it had on his body. The icy water made him feel fully alive, breathing as if to be clutching onto life. If you have ever had a cold shower, you can only imagine how that might feel. Wim would experiment with cold exposure and breathe techniques for decades to come.

At this time he was also reading whole libraries on Indian & Tibetan Philosophy & Mysticism. By divine fate, his wife committed suicide 20 years ago and sent Wim on a quest to further the meaning of strength, health and happiness.

Growing through great suffering, Wim now dedicates his life to helping people become happy, healthy and strong. This thirst for changing the world has propelled him into stratospheric popularity in recent times, so we ventured off to see what all the fuss was about.

We each had different reasons for attending the 5-day retreat; I have been fascinated with various forms of yoga and meditation for the last 6 years. Dave O’Brien is quite a sceptic, but when I mentioned some prior research on Wim and his ability to prevent endotoxemia from injection of E. Coli toxin, he was in. Since contracting hypothermia at age 13, Joel Sargent has been deathly afraid of cold water, so he bravely wanted to overcome his fears. And Mark is always up for a challenge and collecting unique experiences. When asked why Mark follows his macronutrient plan to the T, or never missing a week of training for the last few decades, he just stares you straight in the eye and says “You just gotta do it, Mate!”

So after the first night of meet and greet with 60 other attendees, we woke up from our bunk with a cold shower of approximately 5 degrees. It was proclaimed that the hot water tap should be labelled “Wimp” for the week. There were the usual tension and awkwardness you find in the conversations of any large group of strangers.

Without much organisation, we wandered over to the yoga hall to begin our first session. Wim was sitting on the ground playing his guitar alternating between Tibetan throat singing and ad-libbing about an unknown crazy monkey and changing the world. He is a truly unique character.

There was a lengthy discussion about Wim’s history and some Q&A before he instructed us to lie down and begin to “Tune into the breath”. Having practised this technique before, I somewhat knew what to expect. Others were completely in the dark.

Wim’s voice maintained the mantra “Fully in! Let go..”, which forced us to breathe harder and deeper than we are typically accustomed to. Within a short while, my hands started to tingle, my head became light, and my lungs opened. Unlike my previous experiences in pranayama and yoga classes, it was very obvious that EVERY person in the room was feeling something. We completed 3 rounds of the hyperventilation technique and a 4th concluding with as many pushups as possible while holding our breath out.

Some research has shown considerable physiological effects of this breathing method. There is a robust increase of the excitatory neurotransmitter, epinephrine, as well as an increase in oxygen saturation of the tissues from 16% to 22%. By decreasing carbon dioxide levels, we also raise the blood pH from 7.4 to approximately 7.8. This state of voluntary sympathetic nervous system activation, blood alkalinity and oxygen saturation has profound effects:

  • Increased endurance
  • Increased pain and cold tolerance
  • Improved cardiovascular conditioning
  • Increased white blood cell count
  • Suppression of inflammatory cytokines
  • Feelings of love, connection and happiness

After just one breath session, there was definitely a greater connection between the group. As each day passed, that previous tension and awkwardness morphed into love, compassion and connection. We all knew we were going to be tested at some point – either by the approaching ice bath or by the transformative breath work – and this pressure forged us together, like steel in a fire.

 

This feeling of connection and camaraderie couldn’t have been timed better. When I walked back to the dorm and checked my phone, I had received the message from my father that my close grandpa had passed away that morning. At that moment, I knew I was to embody the strength throughout this retreat that he did his entire life. Every time I would feel like backing out, I would bring myself back to honouring him. I proclaimed my intention during 15 minutes of Horse Stance, barebacked and barefooted in the forest amongst 60 other seekers and warriors. I felt free.

As the afternoon came, 2 cars carrying 1,000 kilograms of ice rolled up the hill. The group started to unload the bags from the car into the inflatable pool. With Wim singing and playing his guitar, and I accompanied with my didgeridoo, the energy was palpable. There was a thick soup of nervousness & excitement, terror & joy. The 12-person pool was now full… 3/4 ice,  1/4 water.

The water temperature quickly dropped down to 3 degrees, and we started to breathe deeply. “Fully in, let go.” rang through our heads. In a split second, the first group, including Dave and close friend Guy Lawrence took their shirts off and jumped in the water. The look of pain and terror spread across every one of their (check out or Facebook page for proof!). It wasn’t very comforting for those of us following on.

Any ounce of comfort left was quickly stripped away as my body submerged under the water. Like daggers, the ice pierced through our thin human skin. We are not made for this shit!

Mark and Joel were to my right, Joel shivering in fear and Mark trying to sing “Somewhere over the Rainbow”. He quickly changed his tune and begun belting out the theme song for the Richmond Tigers. I joined in. The distraction worked for 3 minutes was over in a flash!

We celebrated with a max set of pushups counted out by Mark, which would become a reoccurring tradition as the days went on.

The following morning we went deeper into our breath work, learning a new technique to activate something called brown fat. Believe it or not, this is a good type of fat! The method, which is used to warm up the body, involves a breath retention and squeezing of the chest and back (areas that contain the highest amounts of brown fat). We were to put this method to the test later that afternoon as the water temperature dropped to 0.5 degrees overnight and barely any ice had melted.

After breathing and a discussion, we were instructed to place our hands in the water for 2-minutes. Us modern-day comfort junkies try to minimise as much pain as possible. As a result, our hands have become de-conditioned to cold temperatures. What was once used as important sensors to our outside environment, our hands have become stale and weak and do nothing except type on our smartphones and rest in our warm pockets. Think of your ancestors and consider exposing your hands to the cold from now on.

We walked down to the beach, connecting and sharing stories with one another. Each and every person, despite their background, had something fascinating to share. It’s a beautiful thing when walls are pulled down, and we share our vulnerability with one another. At the beach, we spent 25 minutes breathing in Horse Stance, with the goal to centre the mind and be present with the sounds of the ocean, the wind and the incessant thoughts occurring in our heads.

Before our evening ice bath in the now 0.8-degree water, the five of us completed another 4 rounds of The Wim Hof Method. As this was our second session of the day, I was feeling incredible. My face and hands were full of electricity, and I had enough energy to run through a brick wall. We walked straight out of the yoga hall into the ice bath.

It worked! All of us who had done the breathing beforehand found it profoundly easier than the prior day, despite it being more than 2 degrees colder. This is because our pain receptors, particularly related to temperature are “acid-activated”. When we raise our blood pH through hyperventilating (called respiratory alkalosis), our pain receptors don’t signal as usual.

The only person who suffered was Mark, having an internal battle between singing “Tigerland” and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariots”.

Now the sceptics had been silenced. The Wim Hof Method, at the very least, allows us to take control over our physiology in the realms of cold exposure. It is up to us how far we want to push ourselves from here. The following day we were to sit in 4-degree water for 7.5 minutes. But now there was no fear of the ice. Only during the breath sessions…

After a cold shower and morning walk, we collected into the yoga hall for our third morning of breathing. The group was made up of a diverse array of people. Some were suffering chronic diseases such as cancer or autoimmune issues, others were seeking spiritual growth, and some were looking for that extra edge in physical or mental performance. There were doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, bankers, nurses, builders, teachers, and coaches of all sorts, who made up the bulk of the community. All with one goal in mind: To better understand themselves and the world around them, and to help create a better place on Earth.

Wim lead a mind-blowing session in the morning, teaching us new techniques specific to enhancing spiritual growth and obtaining altered states of consciousness. He is working with Dr Rick Strassman of the Cottonwood Research Foundation to understand the science behind mystical or spiritual experiences. Dr Strassman is famous for his research in the early ’90s on the molecule dimethyltryptamine or DMT, also known as The Spirit Molecule. I will leave the rest up to your imagination but, depending on how deep you want to go, this is a profound and fascinating rabbit hole.

Immediately after that session, we had a surprise 3-minute ice-bath, reminding us that we must be ready for anything at any time.

The energy around that evening’s ice bath was much more relaxed. Despite all the ice melting, the temperature was still only 4 degrees. For 7.5 minutes, this is enough to get a lot of people shivering. We practised the brown fat activation technique, squeezing our abdomen, chest and back with 7 breaths between retention. Mark did not fail to bring the intensity. Drawing on his amateur Australian Rules Football career, he would look you in the eyes and yell “Don’t you (expletive) shiver, Son!”. It’s almost as if he forgot he was in the pool, too.

The breath work had undoubtedly become the most challenging part of the retreat. With any spiritual endeavour, there can be emotional releases. Depending on the individual, these are either subtle or overt. Whatever the reaction, we knew we were surrounded by a group of people who supported us and loved us. This was not just a retreat, this was an exploration of consciousness.

On the fourth and final day, the 60 of us walked through the forest and green pastures to swim in the Painkalac Dam, some 4km away. It was very fresh, but most of us took the opportunity to condition the vascular system and have a pre-ice bath warm up.

That evening Wim called everybody into the hall for an unplanned breath session. He suggested we go slowly. “Fully in. Let go..” The lights turned off. “Fully in. Let go..”

Over the next 90 minutes, we breathed deeper, fuller and longer than we had ever done in our entire lives. The power of this technique really came to light! My hands, arms and face, started to contort with the unusual gaseous exchange & pH occurring in my body.

Upon retention and squeezing, I would revisit childhood memories for what seemed like days, only to come back a few seconds later and realise I was in a room full of people huffing and puffing. I would go again and again until the pressure in my hands became too much, and so I sat up and meditated. I felt an incredible sense of gratitude for the crazy Dutchman at the front singing and playing his guitar.

I don’t mind if you call it a DMT experience, a spiritual exploration or quackery, I was peace, awe and in absolute appreciation for the world and the people in my life.

I believe that is ultimately the goal of any spiritual endeavour; To make you a better person. To allow you to live a fuller life and love the world around you. It is done to make you happy.

We were now all converts. None of us viewed Wim as the Guru, not even himself. We simply understood the power of the method, and that Wim has gone farther than any of us went that night. He understands something most of us do not.

Wim is currently doing research with multiple universities, including Hanover and Stanford. Not because he wants to see if there is proof – he already knows – but to prove to the current scientific community that we do not yet fully understand the nature of strength, healing and happiness. There is much more of our physiology that we are not tapping into. This method will show you how.

The final 10-minute ice bath was more of a celebration than a challenge. We had gone through a hell of a lot as One, and now bonds had formed that hopefully will last a lot longer than those 4 days.

 

 

Many insights became apparent to me throughout the retreat, but some more practical ones I would like to briefly mention.

Too often we allow fear to govern our decisions. Once upon a time, when greeting someone, we would hug one another. Now we usually just give a handshake, always keeping a careful distance between each other. Sometimes it’s just a silent nod! This is fear, preventing you from connecting with someone.

We stop ourselves from being who we really are, out of fear of judgement from others.

This primitive thinking will get you nowhere. I ask you to say F**k Fear. Fully embrace yourself and those around you. Learn new skills, test yourself in challenging situations and be comfortable with being uncomfortable.

By exposing yourself to challenging and stressful situations (like an ice bath), you are making your physiology stronger. Research now shows that cold showers can help treat depression. When we consciously stress our body, it adapts. When we lift weights, we get stronger. If we live in cotton-wool all the time, we become weak, depressed and fearful of the world.

I invite you to take on a new physical challenge. Maybe it’s 30 days of cold showers or meditation, doing an ice bath, learning to handstand or playing an instrument. All these challenges make us grow, and when we grow, we can offer more to the world.

In strength, health & happiness.

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Is Yoga The Only Solution?

I have practiced Vinyasa and Hatha Yoga for 7 years and during that time I have learnt a lot about my body. When I say a lot, I mean at age 19 I could barely touch my knees in a standing forward fold, rest in a deep squat or sit in Hero’s Pose without a mountain of bolsters behind my back. I had no idea how to breathe and chanting Aum at the top of my lungs was extremely uncomfortable. But here I am today, able to move my body as my vocation and lead a class breathing intelligently and singing all sorts of unusual sounds.

So my passion for yoga is greater than ever, but I am going to tell you why this practice is not enough.

(To be clear, I am speaking of the Western adaptation of Yoga, typically Power, Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Iyengar (or anything else after the beginning of 20th century) moving between Lululemon mats and infrared heating panels.)

Stereotypes aside, here are my 5 reasons.

1. Lack of Movement Complexity
Once you have learned the Surya Namasakarasana (Sun Salutation) and standing postures like virabhadrasana (great warrior), ardha candrasana (half moon), or even parivrtta trikonasana (twisted triangle), the level of movement complexity is quite low. Unless like me you were fortunate enough to have your first teacher that was also a dance instructor, it is unlikely you will be stringing together complex sequences and moving the body in non-linear patterns.

One of the best ways to develop the brain is to learn new movement patterns constantly. Contemporary dancers will learn 400 new movements in an audition setting. A typical yoga class may repeat the same 20-50 movements for the next 3 years.

In the beginning, a yoga practitioner can only move as well as their teacher and the movement patterns of most Australian yoga teachers is well… pretty poor. For example, the advice for handstands “Kick up against the wall and start to balance away”. I spent years “Just kicking up” and that got me not very far, very slowly. A solid handstand in a yoga practice is the top of the top. In gymnastics? Well, you’re just a neophyte.

 

2. It Is So Serious
Yoga in 5th century BC was serious and deserved to be so. These Yogi’s starved their body, manipulated their internal organs, meditated for months on end and lived in isolation all in an effort to liberate themselves from suffering. Modern Yogi practitioners, however, spend 1 to 5 hours per week making pretty shapes with our bodies and drinking cold-pressed juices all to fit into our colourful leggings. We have it pretty darn good!

So next time you’re in warrior 2 with that stern look on your face or disgruntled that your teacher is talking about the esoteric benefits of a gratitude practice, maybe just flick yourself a smile and lighten up. It will be ok in the end. My yoga teacher in India wouldn’t go many minutes without laughing from deep down in his belly. He is one of the most joyful people I have ever met and would always make us smile in class.

3. Minimal Human Interaction
Humans are social creatures. We have evolved and become top of the food chain because no other animal can communicate and work together as well as we can.

I was lucky enough to have an incredible studio culture where I started yoga. Everyone knew everyone and we’d hang out outside of classes. In most studio’s however, the students live busy lives and so the usual plan looks like this: Get in, get it done, get out, go home. You may wave the teacher a thank you and goodbye but that’s all the social interaction you get.

Yoga has always been a solo practice, but where’s the fun in that. Humans play together. Even animals play together. Play is a method of learning about each other through games. Partner activities allow me to learn your movement strengths and weaknesses, your personal space, your body language and it also forces me to consider and develop mine. This social interaction is an essential part of movement development.

4. It’s Too Soft
Yoga was designed by men for men. It was compulsory for Indian Warriors. These Warriors would perform hours upon hours of Sun Salutations to strengthen their bodies and their willpower. Modern yoga increases your level of “juiciness” alongside Chet Faker’s latest album but would leave those Indian Warriors dead on the battlefield in seconds.

It is always enjoyable for me to see the realisation that a modern Yogi has when they understand that yoga is not enough. Usually, after 4 weeks of strength training, there is a newfound solidness & stability in their body, their testosterone is back to normal (good for you too, girls) and they carry themselves through this world with more confidence.

Every yoga practitioner would benefit from lifting heavy things and every weightlifter would benefit from yoga. There is a balance that needs to take place in order to feel your optimal self. The two practices enhance each other and both enhance your body, mind and spirit, but not as much if done in isolation.

5. It doesn’t prepare you for real life
There is a law in Sports Science called Specificity that says something along the lines of “Your practice must be relevant and specific to your challenge.” Unfortunately for yoga, there is nothing else (except for yoga championships in India) that replicate it in real life.

Of course, opening up your body and being able to control it with more awareness is a necessary life skill but there are many things that are left unturned. For example, what happens when my brother invites me to play basketball with him and all I have been doing is getting sweaty on my mat. I’ll have no hand-eye coordination and that ball will leave a red mark between my eyes. If I’m asked to help my friend move house? All of a sudden I have an awkward heavy couch in my hands and I feel my lower back take the full load.

If I always have to keep my knee outside of my little toes in Warrior or my elbows never extending past my body in Chaturanga, what happens when my body is asked to do that in real life? Not good things. We need to diversify our movement practice and develop real-world strength and coordination.

 

So what’s a Yogi to do?

Don’t stop your yoga practice. 

However, as a human being, we want to continually develop our skills. We are the most complex movers in the animal kingdom and so we must exercise this ability.

We must develop our strength capacity. Tools like strongman training are incredible for developing real-world strength. We must play on the bars and the rings to develop pulling strength and balance. We must be able to crawl, flip and slide on the ground in non-linear complex movement patterns. And we must be able to manipulate objects and other people around us to develop coordination, confidence and a sense of play.

To be monochromatic is to be bleak and boring. Diversify your movement skillset. Lift, juggle, dance, flip, invert, fight, dance, create, improvise. You are human and if you want to taste the full experience of one, that’s up to you.

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9 Life-Changing Lessons From The Ultimate Coach’s Camp

We all believed, at one point in time, that we could change the world. Over time this zest for success fizzles away with societal pressures and under-achiever cultural paradigms. A small minority of people, have managed to keep that zest.

In August 2016, I spent four days living, breathing, eating, training and exploring with nine other coaches from around Australia at the RealMovementProject Intensive Camp. The founder and facilitator of the four-day event is Keegan Smith, an ex-NRL strength & conditioning coach, who left a decorated career in coaching professional athletes to do something greater.

He has a big vision and thrives on giving influential talks that make the audience think bigger.

Over the four days there were a tonne of big wins. Among them were nine hugely positive messages I took home from the combination of inspiring conversations and physical challenges.

Find a large enough problem and dedicate your life to solving it.

This message has been forgotten by many people working jobs they don’t find fulfilling. It’s hard to question whether there’s something you could be doing that would influence the world around you in a more meaningful way. It implies that we’re not living up to our full capacity and hiding our shining light.

Few people have solved a great problem by stumbling across it in the daily grind, especially in modern times with the six million distractions we have each day. No, these people set aside time to work on a problem they were passionate about until they found a solution.

Some of you may be working in your dream job or on your chosen problem – but there is a call to action for you who is not living up to your full capacity, and hiding your shining light.

The world needs you!
You are your only limiting factor.

The first exercise we did was to write down all the things we would want to achieve, do or be if we were enough. If we were smart enough, strong enough, wealthy enough. If we were taller, shorter, thinner, more flexible – fill in the blank of your desired characteristic.

Then we wrote down all the reasons why we can’t achieve, do or be these things. With the right mindset, these all seemed like a bit of an excuse, so we tore the paper up and threw it out.

I quickly realised that I am my only limiting factor in doing what I want in my life. It is my self-belief that holds me back, not my current life circumstance. Certain influential people have overcome great adversities in their life to be remembered after their gone. They all felt fear and inadequacies but managed to silence them for a moment and dedicate their lives to something greater.

What is your excuse for not connecting your dreams to reality?

Experiencing new skills is better than watching experts.

Keegan asked the group, “What do you enjoy more – nailing your first handstand or watching a cirque du soleil performance?”

Unanimously we voted on nailing our first handstand!

Our culture loves to passively watch the top performers in their field. Most people at a sporting event are overweight and unfit. Instead of putting in a little sweat equity to achieve their desired body or physical skill they prefer to watch other people do it.

Yes it is magical watching LeBron James slamming a ball into a metal ring soaring many feet through the air but I assure you it is more magical to feel your own brain working hard to get that first 10 seconds of juggling 3 balls.

You can do anything if you put the work in.

The difference between you and Tiger Woods is not genetic potential (while it may be in the case of LeBron James). It is simply that by the time Woods was 2 years old and hitting the ball on national television he had already logged thousands of hours of practice into his movement diary.

We often assign the words prodigy, gifted and genius to these individuals. I view that as an insult as it undercuts the tens of thousands of hours these people have put in to master their craft.

To be in the top 1% in something, you must decide to do so, then back it up with focused practice. But it begins with a decision. I have decided that I am going to do a one-arm handstand by the end of the year. Now I just need to put in the work and it will happen.

There is a simple formula to success in any field – it’s not whimsical like some of us hope it to be. (Click to Tweet)

Surround yourself w people who believe in you and who are better than you.

One of my biggest wins at the camp was doing a standing back sault. Prior to this, I had zero flipping experience and was soon hurling myself through the air with only 90 minutes of practice.

There are two reasons I had the courage to make the attempt.

The first reason is that I had seen Keegan do it in the flesh a few minutes prior. This breaks the mystical spell of any daunting challenge. Once you see someone else do something, it becomes a whole lot more possible for you to achieve the same thing.

The second is that Keegan and the rest of the coaches there believed that I could. This uplifting energy was palpable during the whole four day camp. We all wanted to see each other succeed, and that inevitably forces us to do so.

There is an old adage, “Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.” Who you surround yourself with has a massive impact on your belief systems. These belief systems affect how long you will live, in what state of health and what you will accomplish in that lifetime.

Embrace Stress.

While at the camp we practiced a powerful breathing technique popularised by a Deutsch Man named Wim Hoff. This breathing technique is not something you would find in a soothing yin yoga class. It is very stimulating and very intense.

There were many breakthroughs using this technique but I’ll save that for a later post when David, Joel and I attend the 5 day retreat with Wim on the Great Ocean Road in August.

Mr Hoff’s philosophy of our modern stress is compelling. He believes that because we no longer run from predators, need to chase down prey or endure unfavourable weather conditions to survive, we are perpetually stressed by non-life threatening situations.

If I put a gun to your head, all your BS for the day immediately disappears.

So in an effort to reduce the daily stress in our lives, we actually need to embrace more physiological stress. Things like cold showers, hot saunas, intense exercise, breathing techniques and playing sports can all be effective at ridding you of your woes.

The goal in life is to be happier, healthier and a better person.

This one is painfully obvious but mostly overlooked. If your actions are not in alignment with improving at least two of these three characteristics then I believe some questions need to be asked.

At the age of 21, I stopped drinking alcohol. While I didn’t consciously recognise it, the reason behind this was that drinking alcohol wasn’t fulfilling any of the these requirements.

We need to constantly assess whether our actions are bringing us closer to or further away from our goals, because it is not possible to remain stationary.

Ask yourself the hard questions.

The quality of your life is dependant upon the quality of questions you ask yourself. If you are not inspired about your life, it may be because you are not asking yourself inspiring enough questions.

When asked if we should be barefoot or wear shoes while learning hacky-sack, Keegan bluntly replied “if the question you ask won’t directly improve the quality of your life, don’t ask it.”

After the camp I set aside some time & spent a few hours asking myself some confronting questions. This created space for me to return home inspired and ready to take action toward embracing life fully.

Here are a few difficult questions that may help you make positive changes or feel more enlivened on your current path:

  • What problem am I trying to solve?
  • Why am I here?
  • What makes me happy?
  • What am I grateful for?
  • How did this experience – positive or negative – serve me?

You can create any life you desire.

It was evident that all the coaches at the camp were inspired by Keegan’s lifestyle. Tucked away in the hinterlands of Byron Bay, he eats amazing food, learns exciting new skills, reads empowering books, builds an impressive body and travels the globe teaching passionate people how to be better at what they do.

The point is that he created this life for himself. He made a decision that this is the lifestyle he wanted to live and went to work creating it.

You and I can create any life that we want within the laws of the physical universe. Once again, self-belief is our only limiting factor.

I want you to leave this article with one key action step. Whether that be implementing a daily cold shower, asking yourself some hard questions or redesigning your social life.

My hope is that you make just one positive change in your life. This has a ripple effect to the people around you.

Dream big, work hard and live passionately.