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The Meaning of Movement: Ancestral Movement & Evolve, Move, Play

I recently spent 9 days in the bush with a tribe, most of whom I’d never met. It was called the Ancestral Movement Retreat hosted by Simon Thakur and Rafe Kelley from Evolve Move Play. I’ve attended a lot of seminars, camps, and retreats in the last eight years. For me, this was by far the most profound.

 

What interested me about this retreat?

 

I had attended a day-long workshop with Simon six months prior and was impressed by his ability to blend his experience and study of the East and West. What was more interesting to me was that, as a teacher, he was surprisingly not well known amongst the “fitness” community for someone so talented.

 

In eight hours or so he completely expanded my field of view from the mundane to the awesome, covering topics such as neuroscience, exercise rehabilitation, evolutionary biology, psychology, martial arts, yoga, qi-gong and more. It was entirely practical and mostly required getting dirty in the Darebin Parklands.

 

Rafe had sparked something in me when I saw his Return to the Joy video that Simon had shared about six months ago. I knew I had to meet this guy. You can see for yourself why I felt this in the video below:

I didn’t have many expectations going into this experience. I had just completed 3 weeks in Thailand and Bali attending other movement camps with Ido Portal, H.E.L.P., and Jungle Brothers. I think I was just feeling that it would be nice to spend a week in nature, something I hadn’t done since I was 15 years old.

 

So I arrive at the camp on a private property outside a tiny NSW town called Araluen after driving eight hours from Melbourne with two new friends. We take in all our belongings for the 8 nights: camping equipment, clothes, food. We meet some new faces and set up. The next morning we were to begin.

 

It was interesting how quickly I fell into the natural rhythm. Upon waking each morning I answered nature’s call, swam in the stream, put on the same clothes and walked up to the main camp where there was a fire, hot drinks and inspiring conversations to be had.

 

At some point, after everyone gathered around the fire, it was time for our first session. Simon and Rafe generally alternated teaching sessions and built upon each other’s lessons throughout the week.

 

So there we were. Standing in a circle, barefoot in the sand. Soft knees. Eyes closed, gaze slightly lifted. Fingers spread toward the earth. A glimmer of a smile on the face. The morning birds were singing, the nearby stream streaming and the sunlight peering through the tree canopy. The air was cool.

 

I was home…

 

We gently moved the body, mostly in circular and wave-like patterns. These rhythms woke the body from sleep and prepared it for the day ahead. Sometimes we focused on the most minute detail, like the space between two vertebrae or a tiny grain of sand between our feet, other times we expanded our awareness to the entire cosmos, drawing that expansiveness within ourselves.

 

Simon brought his deep research into yoga, qi-gong, neuroscience, biology, and biomechanics into each morning session. This was heavily grounded in first-hand experience and evidence-based science. Simon built on a well-researched concept of a body map. All of us have an awareness of our body in relation to the outside world as well as with itself.

 

Much of our practice was centered around increasing our ability to hone in on tiny parts of the body, thereby waking them up and increasing the resolution of our body map. He suggested that with the help of mirror neurons, this may increase our kinaesthetic empathy. So now when I watch a lizard crawl of a monkey swing, I have a much better understanding of how that might feel within me. Perhaps this enables us to better communicate with each other and learn new, movement patterns with increasing complexity.

Discussing body maps and mirror neurons

Another key lesson in Simon’s teaching is the cultivation of the “Water Dragon Body”. Imagine a dragon in eastern mythology, usually limbless, flying through the sky – perhaps an eel might be an easier image. Nevertheless, imagine this and gain a sense of what this swimming, slithering motion through the spine might feel like. Now just for a moment, realise that humans have evolved from animals that do exactly this. Everything from a tiny bacterium swimming around to fish, then snakes, then lizards, then crawling mammals, then apes, then us…

 

It’s a real trip when you really think about it. Here’s an old video of Simon demonstrating one variation of spinal patterns – skip to 7:15 to witness the history of biomechanical evolution in just 2.5 minutes. If you’re intrigued, explore Simon’s blog in detail. He goes deep.

 

 

So, here we are, standing in the bush, swimming around in space pretending we’re dragons. What is the point of all this? Mobility? Strength? Coordination?

 

For me, it was… Wonder.

 

Simon had an uncanny knack to encourage one to feel immense awe and appreciation for our ancestry, for where we come from and where we are now, but without being overly “spiritual”.

 

One morning, after some light qi-gong-type movements, we were invited to gaze down at a single point between our feet, observing the tiniest spec of gravel, then asked to sense the insane amount of seething life within that small fragment of awareness. All the tiny micro-organisms that were wriggling, feeding, sexing, etc. I thought to myself, “Holy shit! I never really considered that.”

 

Then, without warning, he encouraged us to maintain that sense of wonder, and slowly expand our focus outwards while lifting our hands and eyes. By the time I was gazing at the sky with palms together, I had the biggest smile on my face with the feeling of “WOW!” bursting from within me. It was actually slightly overwhelming but felt unbelievable.

 

It’s interesting to recognise how many of us take the wonders of the cosmos for granted. I know I rarely think about it. I suspect this would be a pretty effective antidote to depression and nihilism. Actually, just the act of spending time out in nature has been shown to be one of the most effective methods of alleviating depression or anxiety.

 

In Simon’s words:

 

“As we explore, we find that the body is full of layer upon layer of extraordinary, ancient, ancestral power – four billion years of adaptation and embodied knowledge – and we start to anchor this understanding of shared ancestry and vast evolutionary timescales in the actual feeling of the body itself. Our perception of time and space shift: we feel the fact that we are giant organisms of mind-boggling complexity, made of water, rock, and air; and more and more we sense and feel the immensity of past eons right now, in the present moment. Our deepening sense of ourselves, our minds and our bodies, grants us a deepening sense of the living world and our continuity with it, and eventually, at a certain point, we come back to a very simple and natural form of worship of life itself.”

 

After our morning practice, if we weren’t lost in riveting conversation with someone, we’d wander to the main camp to cook and eat breakfast together. The food for the whole camp was outstanding. I fully expected to be surviving off dried cereal and nuts but we managed to store and cook delicious meals throughout the entire week with the odd trip to town for more ice.

 

Rafe taught the first post-breakky session, leading with ball games to warm up the mental, emotional and physical body then some practice in break-falling. How many of us know how to fall confidently and safely? Not many I realised. We spend most of our lives trying not to fall over, which actually prevents us from attempting daring feats. If we become masters of falling or breaking the fall, then we become much more equipped to take on life’s physical challenges, whether that be wrestling your child or in Rafe’s case, jumping 7-feet from one tree branch to another, 25-feet above the earth’s crust.

We translated this break-falling into dive-rolling and then rough and tumble play. Through this, I realised that my 4+year shelter inside a gym had made me unconsciously afraid of the outside. Intellectually, I knew there are incredible benefits of being outdoors and actually getting dirty, such as increasing diversity of intestinal microbiota, but emotionally, I was unusually hesitant about getting covered in dirt while wrestling someone else to the ground.

 

It was dusty.

I could get sand in my eyes.

I could get a scratch.

I only have three pairs of clothes.

There’s no shower here.

 

I noticed it took a few days to go from 80% uncomfortable with the dirty ground to about 20%. In fact, by the end of the retreat, I actually began to like it.

 

Other than Parkour, or what Rafe calls “Tree-running”, he was also a huge advocate of martial arts, roughhousing or rough and tumble play. My (and evidently, Rafe’s too) recent deep dive into Jordan Peterson’s lectures has revealed an incredible amount of literature that supports roughhousing as a fundamental to human culture and therefore the human psyche.

 

Rats who are deprived of roughhousing display symptoms of attention-deficit-disorder, which can be treated with Ritalin, like humans. Interestingly, Rafe recounted his childhood that was cursed with learning disabilities in school (despite being a voracious reader at home) until he encountered martial arts, to which he devoted an incredible amount of time to over the next decade.

 

It makes sense, that when we take roughhousing away from children, especially boys, then ask them to sit still and quiet while they’re caged in sneakers and a plastic chair that most of them rebel, some a little more than others. Rough and tumble play has also been shown to increase children’s ability to develop delayed gratification, which we recognise as one of the most important factors for determining one’s success in life.

 

Rafe told us that a lot of his students have returned to seminars and claimed that rough and tumble play has also profoundly benefitted their sexual and romantic relationship. Roughhousing, we would learn, is an incredibly effective method of getting out of our heads and into our bodies, something which most of us need to do on a much more frequent basis.

 

Throughout the retreat, we explored many different methods of physical (non-sexual) play. From contact improvisation to dance to wrestling, I really began to see the benefits that these practices have, not just on the physical body but also the psyche. It reminded me that for years I’ve heard from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners that performing this form of grappling martial art has helped them more in their social skills than in their physical power.

 

Dance and roughhousing are two movement practices that are fundamentals to almost all traditional cultures on earth. In fact, roughhousing is older than humans. Most animals engage in some sort of jostling for social communication from wolves to lobsters (as Jordan Peterson popularised).

 

It’s interesting to think how few of us actually engage in either dance or roughhousing and question what kind of effect this has on us individually as well as culturally. Are we more anxious, arrogant, depressed, inflated or deflated because of it? I suspect so. If anything it means that most of us aren’t as physically gifted as our tribal ancestors.

 

The beautiful video you saw at the start of this blog was Rafe doing what Rafe does best. As a former parkour athlete, he’s now dedicated his efforts to flipping through nature instead of the concrete jungle. This has offered up a whole platter of unique and unusual environments to engage with. No tree branch is exactly the same. No rock. No waterfall. No weather pattern is identical to the one before it. This makes for some very interesting physical practice.

 

I wrote about this interaction with nature quite a lot in Man Alive and highlighted the incalculable amount of benefits that unfold when we immerse in nature to such a degree. While my acrobatic talents are not as well developed as Rafe’s, I can appreciate his intense devotion to nature as a canvas for the art of movement. I for one am inspired to work on my brush strokes.

 

Gratefully, I was exposed to some fundamentals for enhancing my natural movement practice. One memorable session, Rafe invited us to the Jungle Gym (everyone needs a jungle gym by the way) to work on some arboreal locomotion… errr moving around in the trees.

 

Another tribe-member, Emma, brought some music to the class, which led us to discover how to dance with the structures around us. We played with a few parkour techniques, but mostly it was intuitive improvisation. We then transitioned from a stationary position to moving throughout the entire jungle gym, interacting with other movers, as well as the gym, as well as ourselves. The music added an element that could not have been foreseen by Rafe. It was unexpected and spectacular for both teacher and student… for lack of better words, here’s a clip:

 

 

Much of my experience throughout the whole week was quite ineffable. Spending eight nights in nature is profound just by itself, let alone immersing deeply into the world of “Ancestral Movement” with twenty or so other sapiens.

 

Toward the end of the retreat, I was waking up just before the first bird chirped – a sign that I was now in sync with the circadian rhythm of the earth.

 

I started moving slowly, thinking less. Time seemed to disappear, or at least become inconsequential. Once, Rafe mentioned that it was 9:40. Immediately, Simon declared “He knows the time. Get him!”

 

There’s no doubt that most of us are experiencing some form of Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD). Let’s not forget that we have evolved over hundreds of millions of years with the rhythm of the earth, where natural light slowly fades into darkness over many hours. Now, only in the last hundred years or so, we have artificial light. Thanks to digital technology, that light is on the same spectrum as the sun is during the middle of the day. Good-bye, restful sleep…

 

In a world where every bit of information is available at a click of a button, we rarely hear our own answers. As the mind began to quiet, I felt more introspective, more connected to my own ideas and beliefs. Despite there being much less to ‘do’ out there, I had a lot more meaning.

Cold mountain water is good for your soul

 

When I first met Rafe around the campfire, he was studying Jordan Peterson’s academic behemoth, Maps of Meaning. He’d been reading the greats of mythology, anthropology, and psychology from a young age and had a unique ability to frame complex ideas in an easily understandable way. Telling stories around the campfire, he taught us the meaning of certain ideas with the great Hero Myth creeping up again and again.

 

I discovered these words from Rafe after the retreat:

Why do you we train?

 For most of us, there is no direct necessity for movement capacity. We can get by in life without being able to run fast, jump high, hit hard, or solve complex movement problems.

 So why train?

 We train to confront the dragon of life’s potential chaos, we train to be more capable of solving any physical problem and through that to improve at solving all the possible problems life can throw at us. And we train for the meaning we gain from this process.

Training is a Hero’s journey.”

 

This obviously resonated with me. Training to achieve a one-arm handstand or a double bodyweight back squat is pretty useless in today’s society. In fact, doing almost any other training than walking and light postural exercises is unnecessary. So what’s the point?

 

Meaning.

 

Again from Rafe:

“In mountaineering, there is an old saying: “It is not what the man does to the mountain it’s what the mountain does to the man.” This is the fundamental realization we train: To experience what our body and mind can be; To experience moments of epic adventure; To make life more deeply meaningful.”

 

A big thank you to Simon, Rafe, and all the other tribe members who made the week an unforgettable experience. I highly encourage everyone to adventure out with either of these great teachers and blow your mind into a state of awe and wonder at the magic of life. I’m deeply inspired by the work these two are offering in the world of… being human. So much wisdom shared. So many lessons learned. Since returning, I have been enjoying putting these new tools into practice and integrating such a powerful experience into my life.

Jungle Gym. Source: https://ancestralmovement.com/

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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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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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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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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.