May 29, 2017
To wrap up the month of May we have Dr Peter Romero giving us the insights on all things health, turning vegan, and alternative medicine. It’s very interesting to hear from a doctor who is very progressive and and open to preventative and holistic health. We wish all doctors could think this way! In any case, let’s jump straight into this interview and hear about how the Western Medicine side are thinking.
Can you tell us a little about your background and how you decided to get into medicine?
I was born in Coffs Harbour in 1958 and lived on a small farm in Bonville growing up. I attended a local 3 teacher primary school and then public high school. I had appendicitis aged11 and that and a wish to do something to help others and have an interesting job made me decide to be a doctor at age 12. I started medicine before my 18th birthday and graduated from Sydney University before my 23 birthday. I spent 4 years residency at Westmead Hospital where I decided that rural general practice was what I wanted to do. I am now in my 32nd year of private practice in Nelson Bay.
Western Medicine has obviously come a long way in accepting the more alternative and Eastern forms of medicine, but where do you think the future of Western Medicine will go?
That may be an assumption from talking to me. I am not sure that it has become all that more accepting overall. Western medicine on the face of it tries to adopt the “Scientific Approach” for treatment. Unfortunately it is all about the treatment of disease and not about health promotion. In general we treat a society that believes that we can cure a lot more than we can, and believes there must be a pill for everything. For example, many smokers with emphysema can’t believe there is no cure.
Yes it seems the difference between Western and Eastern medicine is treating symptoms versus finding the cause respectively! There’s definitely room to grow in Western medicine for looking to be more preventative rather than reactive.
Do you think there’s a place for doctors to be suggesting these more alternative methods of healing to patients such as certain dietary changes or mindfulness and meditation exercises to help with anxiety and depression?
YES. 70% of the disease we treat is caused by lifestyle. Poor diet ( despite everyone believing the contrary), lack of exercise, being overweight (2/3 of the population), plus stress, poor rest and sleep, are all lifestyle factors contributing to 70% of diseases. Most people do not realize that diet, lack of exercise and stress are responsible for much of the depression and anxiety that we experience. Type 2 Diabetes and Ischaemic Heart Disease are increasing exponentially and are totally preventable with lifestyle changes. We can be doing this work as doctors to work to heal this rather than just give another pill.
70% is such a big number! It almost seems like we’re trying to make ourselves sick with all those areas you mentioned! What relationship do you see doctors having with holistic health coaches in the future? I.e. is it congruous and work in unison or is it more at odds with each other?
Many fail to appreciate there is a continuum from optimal health through to only fair health before the onset of disease. I am frustrated that so many settle for mediocre instead of aiming for abundant health. Many wait for a crisis before valuing their health. Society needs re-education. Doctors can help but so few listen from my experience. I am hoping for more prevention. I value holistic health coaches but too few in society do. Doctors will go on treating disease much of which could have been prevented. Health coaches can provide information and motivation in that preventive health sphere.
It’s definitely something that I think many health coaches can relate to in that frustration of settling for mediocre health. That’s a great way to put the relationship between doctors and health coaches – one of complimenting each other but there is a long way to go before Western medicine as a whole accepts the role that health coaches play! They’re not all as forward thinking and prevention focused as you.
We understand that you’re a vegan going on almost four years now? What made you decide to make that change and what differences have you seen in your health from it?
Prior to switching to an almost completely “Plants as grown” diet almost 4 years ago I was semi- vegetarian (remember that beer and chips is vegan but not healthy!). I then read “The China Study” and watched the DVD “Forks over Knives” and then became involved in the CHIP- Complete Health Improvement Program. I lost 5 kg without limiting food volume and got a whole lot more energy and felt younger with less aches and pains.
There is so much information out there now on what the benefits are of cutting out animal protein and you just listed some great sources there. It’s all well and good to read something or watch a documentary on WHY we should do it, but it’s HOW to make the switch that often trips people up. What would be your top tips for someone trying to start a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle? How do you make the change sustainably?
There are 2 ways; see which works for you. The easiest seems to be “Double the Good and Halve the Bad” and just keep taking steps in the right direction. The other is just “Jump in the Deep End”. Although this seems more radical it takes 21 days for our taste buds to change. Get a coach or attend a program. Involve a friend, keep a diary. Involve exercise and meditation at the same time so you are making changes on the whole rather than just your diet.
Ok so finally, what is your most important advice to your patients who are looking to improve their overall health?
Lots of fruit and vegetables; 5 serves may not be enough.
Move; the more the better. Find something you can enjoy.
Sorry that’s 2 but they are both so important!
Wrapping up the month on synchronicity and listening to your intuition, we’ve secured yogi Nicole Belliveau from the Byron Yoga Centre to take us through her little tips and tricks. Nicole started yoga at a young age now is a host and teacher at the Byron Yoga Centre. She also trained as a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and is passionate about all things health and wellness.
So let’s get into the interview!
Nicole can you tell us a little about your background and how you wound up at the Byron Yoga Centre?
I am a Canadian who grew up with an active lifestyle but poor quality food. Somewhere in the transition from mcnuggets to quinoa, I took a leap and studied Holistic Nutrition. While learning about food science and the healing benefits of whole foods, real transformation happened. Now as a Holistic Nutritionist, I have a much healthier relationship with food and nourish myself with an organic plant-based diet.
I started practicing yoga at a young age almost 10 years ago. It started off as another form of physical exercise but slowly I started to feel the benefits on deeper levels. On my mat was the first time I truly connected with myself. It is where a lot of my healing and self-love happens.
In January 2016, I arrived at the Byron Yoga Centre to study and become a yoga teacher. After the course finished, I asked to volunteer for a few weeks to soak in all the knowledge I gained and the beauty of the centre. Over a year later, I still haven’t left! I now have the privilege to be one of the Retreat Hosts; I teach some yoga classes and wellness workshops, ensure the retreats run smoothly and most importantly that the guests are happy and relaxed. I feel blessed every day to be in a position that allows me to grow in a healthy environment surrounded by like-minded people.
Wow what a journey to end up there permanently. It’s funny how life takes us to the places we need. How do you keep balanced and centred with so much going on? What’s your secret tip?
I don’t have one specific tip but rather a combination of habits that make up a healthy lifestyle that invites vitality and clarity to take the best step forward. I make an effort to eat nutrient-dense living foods, practice meditation and yoga, ensure adequate sleep, spend time in nature and fill my mind with content that inspires me to be and live better. Some days I slip off the health wagon but i’ve learned to accept this and not be too hard on myself. Reminding myself what I am grateful for, to breathe deeply and be present helps me stay positive and get back on track.
It’s nice to know that even yogi’s can fall off the bandwagon – makes us mere mortals feel a little better! We’re talking a lot about synchronicity and intuition this month. That can include things like finding your own tribe with similar interests, listening to what your body needs for nutrition, choosing the movement exercises that work for you, and finding time for yourself. Can you tell us a little bit about how you have tapped into your intuition?
For me, tapping into our intuition is connecting to our true self, in the present and using it to guide our thoughts and actions. When we are aligned with this inner wisdom, it is easier to recognize what will serve our highest good and purpose. Our intuition always speaks to us but sometimes there are distractions that get in the way.
When I feel disconnected, I make an effort to get out of my head to reduce the noise it creates and get more into my heart. Often this takes place with eyes closed, breathing deeply, focusing on my heart space on my mat, immersed in nature or reading with a lit candle and herbal tea. Books such as Rebecca Campbell’s Light is the New Black and Caroline Myss’s Anatomy of the Spirit, have helped me see the world in a whole new light and tap into parts of myself I didn’t know existed.
Getting out of the “should” mentality and more into exploring how I truly want to feel, helps to gain clarity and be in the flow of life. I also find that when I let myself write organically in my journal, I connect to what I need to be reminded of. To stay true to my authenticity, I will add that I am still working on all of this. The more I practice these rituals, the more I spend time in connection with my intuition and synchronicity happens.
It seems like continuing to learn and grow is so important for all of us. So from a yogi’s point of view, what are the best ways to being open to and listening to your own intuition?
Patanjali’s Yoga sutras teach us to apply the principles of Ashtanga (8 limbs). Included in these steps are how to live a meaningful and purposeful life, compassion for self and others, self-discipline, mindfulness, pranayama (breath exercises), meditation, asana and eventually for some, enlightenment. His teachings are very in depth but some key points are mindfulness, deep breathing, reflecting before reacting, and moving the body to eliminate stagnant energy. When the limbs are practiced, openness and intuition can flow with ease.
That point you made about the “should” mentality is a trap many of us fall into! We need to really disassociate ourselves with that and focus on what we really want. So finally Nicole what would be your top three tips for a corporate worker trying to align themselves with their future goals and vision?
1. CLARITY: For true alignment to happen, the goals need to be in sync with our true desires. Once we get clear on how we want to feel, we can use this as our compass rather than what we “should” be going for. Having clarity on HOW to reach the vision is also essential to achieving the goals. There is something powerful about writing on paper our goals and the actions step necessary to make them happen. Being realistic, taking it one step at a time and writing a date to have them accomplished by will help the transition towards the end goals.
2. PERSONAL GROWTH: “To have more than you’ve got, become more than you are” –Jim Rohn. By investing in ourselves with books, podcasts, documentaries and people that stimulate us to grow and change our mindsets, our lives change radically. Happiness is an inside gig – Our perceptions, thoughts and beliefs are what shape our lives. By changing our internal world, the outside world becomes aligned with our energy and the grass gets greener.
3. SELF-LOVE: To remind ourselves that we are GOOD ENOUGH. To have compassion and kindness towards ourselves along the journey. Even if the process doesn’t go as planned or we make mistakes, all is well. Underlying the actions, there needs to be love and trust. Self-love also includes taking time for ourselves and resting (which is very different to laziness). In our busy go-go-go lives, we need to create balance by slowing down and recharging ourselves. Learning to receive, saying no to the things that do not serve us and putting ourselves first are also part of this loving process.
All points that I need to remind myself of!
Thanks so much for your time Nicole it’s been a pleasure.
Photo credit: Simon Hunter simonhunterphotography.com
The world has become a pretty unstable and unsettling place at the moment – Donald Trump is in charge of the most powerful country in the world, the UK is in negotiation to leave the rest of the EU, and war continues to rage in the Middle East. One sitting of the news and you’re likely to walk away feeling more down than when you started.
In a time where we’re experiencing the highest standard of living in history, paradoxically we’re also more depressed, anxious and unhappy.
First things first, we need to take care of ourselves. I’m not saying this out of selfishness, or from a ‘every man from himself’ perspective. I’m talking about learning to create happiness and peace from within that can radiate onto others and create a ripple effect. There’s a reason they get you to fit your own oxygen mask on a plane before others – you won’t be able to get someone else’s mask on if you’re not breathing!
So here are the top 6 things that you need to be doing for yourself regularly in 2017. I’m not saying that these things will change the world, but they will definitely help YOU to feel happier, healthier and a more altruistic human.
1. Breathe. It’s amazing how many people aren’t breathing to its full potential. I used to be one of them. I used to just keep all the oxygen in my chest, and not expand the breath into my diaphragm and lower abdomen. When you start to breathe diaphragmatically, the PNS system (learn more on this here) is switched on, and your body starts to relax. It’s great to mindfully breathe like this first thing in the morning and last thing at night before you go to sleep for about five minutes. This will help you to subconsciously breathe like this throughout the day as well. It’s amazing what 5 minutes of deep breathing can do for your mental and physical health!
2. Fuel your body. It’s easy to forget that the reason we eat is to provide fuel to the body. The balance between eating for pleasure and eating for survival has swung considerably to the former and this is having ramifications. Try to make at least one meal a day focused on fuelling for nutrition. Eat nutrient dense foods – like fruits and vegetables – and try and eat as close to the natural source as possible. Processing of foods has changed considerably, and it’s hard to know what’s been added when you can’t understand the ingredients!
3. Move more. Unless you’re an ultra athlete, we could ALL do with more movement. Our sedentary lifestyle has us sitting down more than ever. Unfortunately, one hour of intentional exercise has been shown as not enough to combat the effects of sitting at a desk all day. So we need to start integrating movement throughout the day. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk to/from work or a portion of the journey, or go for walking meetings instead of sit down coffees. Do whatever it takes to make that magic 10,000 step number. It’s not in any way easy, but it’s very rewarding for your body.
4. Learn to meditate. If there is only ONE thing that you do this year, learn to meditate. There are yoga studios and meditation centres popping up everywhere, and plenty of resources online that can teach you the fundamentals – I have even made a recording for you here. If you’re already meditating, make it a goal to foster your practice. I could go on and on about the benefits of meditation (and I do so here) but for the sake of this blog, just realise that meditation is one of THE BEST forms of self-care out there. It takes as little as 5 minutes a day, and it can be life changing. Trust me on this one.
5. Embrace minimalism. I have blogged on this already (and will probably continue to!) and it seems to be quite an emerging theme for me (and plenty of others) in 2017. It seems that an excess of ‘stuff’ is manifesting our discontent, and there is no end in sight in the hunt for something new. Cleanout your wardrobe (learn how to here) or de-clutter your office space. Just spend time over the next year clearing the physical to allow the mental space for growth.
6. Sleep. At the end of the day it can feel like there’s just not enough time to do any of those self-care activities. I wouldn’t blame you for telling me so! The proverbial ‘to do list’ continues to grow, and despite the number of items we tick off, it never seems to end. One thing you CAN do that doesn’t require an extra item on the to do list is to sleep. I mean, force yourself at least 7-9 hours of sleep EVERY NIGHT. I can hear you groaning through your computer “who has that much time to sleep?”. The change makers do and so do you. The plane and oxygen analogy is most pertinent here. You will be so much more productive, have so much more energy, be capable of achieving so much more in less time, IF you get more sleep. Try it for a week and see what happens…
Now this may seem like a lot but even if you just pick ONE of these things to do this year, the transformation may just surprise you.
This will be the last blog post for 2016! So I thought in the spirit of Christmas I’d give you access to a guided meditation that you can listen to over the holidays (see link below).
Whether you’re a guru meditator or a first timer, meditation brings a unique and different experience to everyone each time. The Western world is finally starting to catch up with the scientific benefits of meditation that the East has been preaching about for centuries. As a consequence, meditation is no longer reserved for just ‘hippies’ (see my other blog on famous meditators!) and is becoming a more common practice among many.
While there are countless benefits of meditation, I’ve covered the top 9 below. If you’re not meditating, these are the 9 things you’ll be missing out on!
1. We all face stress at one time or another. Stress can SOMETIMES be a good thing. But not all the time. Research has found that Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programs may help manage stress. A systematic review of 17 MBSR studies found the program to be effective in reducing stress in participants ! So when you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed this Christmas, turn to meditation.
2. Anxiety is often a by-product of built up stress and can get a real grip of you if you don’t have ways to manage it. A systematic review of meditation training found that 69% of the studies analysed highlighted that meditation alleviated the symptoms of anxiety .
3. Sleep is one of the biggest issues that my clients come to me with. We all have so much on our minds all the time, and little time throughout the day to switch off. The plethora of technology available at our finger tips makes going to sleep at night a challenge for many. A meta-analysis of randomised control trials among those with insomnia showed that eight weeks of meditation training significantly improved sleep quality . So if you’re mind is racing as soon as your head hits the pillow, try some relaxation meditation to help you drift of more easily.
4. Still on the topic of sleep, the holiday season often means that sleep is the first to be sacrificed for parties, shopping, and other appointments. Among practiced meditators, time spent meditating is now correlated with a significant decrease in total sleep time needed . Some have even said 20 minutes of meditation is the equivalent to a one-hour nap. So if you don’t have time to be napping during the day, find a quiet space for 20 minutes and zone out to feel refreshed and energized!
5. Meditation has now been shown to have significant impacts on our cognition. Scientists investigated the effects of a meditation training program and found that meditating for just four days is enough to improve novice meditators’ working memory . So if you’re struggling to remember all those new names at the latest social gathering, try a meditation and you could be remembering the most important of names…
6. While December usually isn’t the month for colds and flus, having one in the blazing heat and humidity is less than pleasant. On top of that, all the late nights, less healthy food and extra alcohol all wreck havoc on the immune system. A study from Harvard Medical School showed that individuals who practiced yoga and meditation developed a higher immunity . The last thing you want Christmas Day is to be blowing your nose and all puffy from a cold, so practice some mindfulness techniques throughout the month to keep the immune system strong.
7. Christmas time is often when feelings of loneliness start to rear their ugly heads. A study on mindfulness meditation training showed that meditation helps decrease those feelings of loneliness . You don’t have to live alone to experience loneliness. Practicing meditation is one of the best ways to get comfortable with your own company, plus it gives you a hit of those feel good hormones, which Loneliness doesn’t like to hang around with.
8. Show of hands if you think you’re NOT creative (my hand is up). I like to think of myself as the more logical and problem solving type. Though since starting my own business I’ve HAD to become more creative. Research shows that meditation has positive effects in creativity and divergent thinking . There is no better place for me to come up with new ideas and services for my clients than during a meditation. If you’re looking for some creative inspiration for what 2017 will hold for you, try just shutting down the eyes and tuning into your intuition – it may surprise you.
9. This one is especially useful over Christmas. How many times have you finished a Christmas meal and felt totally and utterly STUFFED?! Scientists now believe that Transcendental Meditation (with a mantra) helps to manage emotional eating . When we’re more mindful about what we’re putting in our bodies consciously it transfers subconsciously into our everyday behaviour.
There’s so many benefits to meditation but even if you just experienced ONE of these, imagine how much better off the end of 2016 will be and the potential for 2017.
Click HERE for the guided mediation to start
 Sharma, M., & Rush, S. E. (2014). Mindfulness-based stress reduction as a stress management intervention for healthy individuals a systematic review. Journal of evidence-based complementary & alternative medicine, 19(4), 271-286.
 Chen, K. W., Berger, C. C., Manheimer, E., Forde, D., Magidson, J., Dachman, L., & Lejuez, C. W. (2012). Meditative therapies for reducing anxiety: A systematic review and meta‐analysis of randomized controlled trials. Depression and anxiety, 29(7), 545-562
 Gong, H., Ni, C. X., Liu, Y. Z., Zhang, Y., Su, W. J., Lian, Y. J., … & Jiang, C. L. (2016). Mindfulness meditation for insomnia: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 89, 1-6.
 Zeidan, F., Johnson, S. K., Diamond, B. J., David, Z., & Goolkasian, P. (2010). Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: Evidence of brief mental training. Consciousness and cognition, 19(2), 597-605.
But recently, two big players have called for unprecedented action in the corporate setting to improve employee wellbeing. Jeff Kennett, former Premier and chairman of BeyondBlue, has come out saying that performance bonuses of top executives should be partially linked to the mental wellbeing of their staff. HALLELUJAH!
This wave comes to light as a new NAB/IPSOS survey showed Australians regard happiness as the topmost measure of success, followed by good family relationships, feeling fit and healthy, and being a ‘good person.’
Kennett has put mental wellbeing on the same page in significance as family violence and bullying. “At a part of Australia’s history where we’re trying to address family violence, where we’re trying to address bullying, where we’re trying to address good mental health practices, it is time for industry leaders big and small to give the mental health of their workforce the same priority they would give any other measurable figure,” Kennett said.
As a result of this passion, Kennett put a proposal in front of the Business Council of Australia (BCA) saying that companies should introduce key performance indicators (KPIs) for chief executives and other staff to ensure the mental health within organisations is maintained. BCA chief executive Jennifer Westacott agreed the issue needs to be taken seriously.
In response to critics that mental wellbeing is too subjective and unmeasurable, Kennett has rejected this claim. He counters with the facts, stating that lost productivity costs the economy $10.9 billion a year. Westacott agrees saying that “These things at the bottom line result in unplanned absenteeism, they cost businesses money,” and “They’re not just feel-good things. These are real economic things. That’s why the Business Council is interested and passionate about this.”
Kennett says the way he envisages improving wellbeing includes statements like “What I would like to see in every head of department of a bureaucracy, in every CEO’s performance, and every direct report’s KPIs, is a KPI about the mental health, the wellbeing, of their workforce, of those that report to them,” and “When you talk about pay performance, when you talk about bonuses, particularly, I want to see a KPI in place that addresses this, because that will focus their mind more than anything else.”
This importance on mental health and wellbeing is not just for employees, but for senior management as well. Throughout his career, Kennett recounts countless incidents of C-Level Executives struggling with burnout. Kennett told the Australian, “I have had a number of organisations in the last two years, three years, where a CEO, a CFO, a COO has hit the wall, and the ramifications on the small leadership group is obviously quite profound, not to mention the impact on the business”.
This is a huge step for addressing the mental wellbeing of Australia, and putting at the forefront the happiness of our nation. Happy and satisfied people will result not only in a more productive workplace, but also with better relationships, more financial security, and a healthier society.
So what does this mean for your business or workplace? It means that it’s time to get serious about mental health and have programs and policies in place to be in front of the pack. Enlist the help of a health coach, exercise specialist, mental wellbeing expert (someone like me!) to help customise a program that meets the KPIs that your organisation is going to enlist to promote the wellbeing of it’s employees.
I am really excited about watching this one progress, so stay tuned for updates and we can see where this movement gets us!
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October is World Mental Health Month. The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines mental health as the state of well-being in which every individual with their own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to their community. Nearly half (45%) of all Australians will experience some form of mental illness during their lifetime, and those that don’t will likely know someone who does. I have several close friends who suffer from anxiety and depression, and while they often can present as a fully functioning adult, there are times when they are crippled with it. The worst part is, this health issue is almost invisible. There’s still a lot of stigma and confusion around mental health, and that’s where this years theme of Learn and Grow comes in.
Suffering from a mental health issue doesn’t necessarily mean being locked in a room 24/7 refusing to leave. My friends usually meet the WHO criteria above, except its not consistent, and there are days when they don’t want to leave their house. It is a weekly and sometimes daily struggle for them to be productive at work. The stress of work, home life or their own self-confidence makes acting as a ‘productive human’ much more difficult.
That is why this year in particular is so important for mental health awareness, as the theme is encouraging people and communities to learn more about mental health and use that knowledge to grow personally and empower individuals to be in control of their mental wellbeing. The social network surrounding people suffering in their mental health is crucial for support. The workplace is one of those key areas.
Stress, daily demands, and burnout are all key precursors in the workplace for a potentially negative impact on workers mental health. Those that ‘work the hardest’ or ‘work the longest’ are often championed and praised for their dedication. But at what cost?
Beyond the emotional and physical toll it takes on the individual, mental health conditions present substantial costs to organisations. My previous blog breaks down the costs of absenteeism, productivity loss, and turnover, of which mental health conditions are a significant contributor. However, through the implementation of an effective wellness program to create a mentally healthy workplace, organisations are showing a positive return on investment.
In light of this, Energy|Body|Mind are hosting a free Mindfulness event in Sydney at Observatory Hill on October 31st. It’s during your lunch break on a Monday from 12.30-1.15pm so come along to engage with some stretching and powerful postures, learn some breathing techniques, and undertake a short meditation. You will leave feeling recharged and re-energised! Registration details below.
So what are some of the ways that you can start to integrate a healthy work environment to help you and your colleagues to reduce and prevent the ill-effects of mental health issues?
This is an important issue, and one that seems to be on the rise. But we can do something about it, and taking action in the workplace can be one of the best methods for this.
Registration for the Mindfulness event is from the Home Page of this site. Spots are limited, and the first 10 to register will receive a special gift! Look forward to seeing you there.
Ever wanted to go to a wellness retreat? Be it yoga, meditation, massage, holistic health, the choices are endless. Retreats can be an expensive expedition, and you often feel amazing while you’re away, but then come back to reality and forget to implement all your learnings into your everyday life. Before you know it, your phone is again attached to you like a third limb, your mind is wandering all the time, and you’ve been to yoga only once this week.
I recently spent a long weekend up at the Byron Yoga Centre. In light of that retreat, I wanted to share how I’ve learnt to create my own retreat here at home, and how you too can create your own oasis to escape anytime you like.
If you’re currently experiencing an overwhelming urge to pack your bags and permanently escape reality (while a supported idea!) there are a few ways to bring the retreat to your life here, and prepare you to confront the world refreshed, renewed and revitalised.
Set Aside 4-7 Hours A Week for YOU
While the movie “Yes Man” taught us a lot about embracing new adventures, society has almost gone too far in saying “yes” to everything. When was the last time you said “yes” to something, but really didn’t want to go? Learning to say “no” is both empowering and one of the main ways to help you recharge. But it is also hard! Having scheduled downtime is key to rebooting the system and making sure that everything you have said “yes” to is enjoyed. Schedule time in your diary for YOU that you treat like any other important meeting – it is non-negotiable and cannot be moved. This may just be 30 minutes before bed where you read your latest book, or an hour on Saturday mornings before heading out for brunch. Use this time how you like it and sometimes to do NOTHING. It is amazing what an hour a day can do for your overall wellbeing.
Give Yourself a Technology Detox
While in Byron, I turned off my phone for a whole 56 hours (not that I was counting!). It was blissful. Not having to answer to anyone. Not feeling the desire to check what I’d missed on all social media channels. Not needing to take a photo of everything I was doing. Heaven. It’s probably not realistic for us to all throw our phones away and revert to snail mail to communicate. However, you can integrate a technology detox into your day. Have set hours where your phone is OFF. 8pm-8am. They are my new hours. I am uncontactable in that time. I do not access any social mediums in that time. My brain is switched off from technology. Giving yourself the permission to switch off is like your own recharging time. See what hours you can play with and start to build it up till you have 12 hours of detox a day.
Work On Your Sleeping Patterns
With all the time you’ll now have away from your phone you can use it to work out your sleeping patterns. I used to be a night owl, up all hours, but felt terrible waking up in the morning. The retreat had us up every morning at 5.30am which was a big shock to the system! But its a trend I’ve continued in my daily life, and its revolutionised how I spend my time. That’s not to say everyone should be waking up at 5.30am, but it is a good reminder to look at the quantity, quality and patterns of our sleep. Figure out what your ideal hours are and stick to them like an appointment!
Integrating Meditation and Yoga
Coming home after spending four hours a day practising yoga and countless hours in the depths of meditation, I vowed that it would cross over into my life at home. None of us have the time to be spending hours in the strength of Warrior 2 pose or on a grassy patch meditating with our thoughts. But we can find small snippets of time. I now meditate on my commute – 20 minutes on the bus ride in and 20 minutes home. There is something tranquillising about the hum of the bus, and with my earphones in and sunglasses on, no one else knows the better! You also don’t need to join a prestigious yoga studio to feel the benefits of a daily practice. Even the franchise gyms have caught on, and places like Fitness First have LOADS of yoga classes. Once you know a few moves you can integrate this into your daily routine (now that you’re getting up so much earlier) and throughout the day in your breaks (see my previous blog on how to integrate movement into the office). Little additions here and there quickly add up till you find yourself managing to fit an hour of meditation and yoga easily into your schedule.
Take A Look At Your Eating Habits
I am going to make it clear up front – I am not a vegetarian. When I learnt that the weekend retreat was ONLY vegetarian food, I immediately thought I’d be eating lettuce and fruit for the weekend. The food turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip. The chefs creatively prepared some amazing dishes for our meals, and without the ability to fall back on the flavour from meat, the fresh ingredients could stand alone and be relished. While the weekend hasn’t turned me vegetarian, it has made me more creative in my own cooking, and curious as to the mixture of texture and flavours that I can produce in a vegetarian meal. I now take three days a week meat free. Try it for just one day – you’ll be amazed at the flavours.
One Day A Month
When I’m feeling extra indulgent, I allow myself a whole day to do all of the above. That is really bringing the retreat to you! Once a month (usually on a Sunday but sometimes a Monday) I go into full retreat mode. No phone for 24 hours. I go to yoga classes twice a day. I meditate throughout the day in little 20 minute pockets. I prepare delicious and creative vegetarian foods that I don’t have time for during the week. I read parts of my favourite books. At times I do NOTHING. Send your better half out for the day. If you have kids send them to a slumber party. Pets are allowed. Really allow yourself to have the space and the mindset to reboot. Trust me, your family / friends / colleagues will be asking you how you look so young, refreshed and zen all the time.
Sometimes you just need to get away and go on a retreat. And you should. Research where you want to go, the classes and options they offer you, and different cost scales. Set an intention for your retreat so you really get the most out of your time away. Then dive in. Head first. Give it your all. Retreats are like unicorns; they occur rarely and provide little nuggets of gold. So embrace them and then bring everything you’ve learnt back home!
Ever been in a situation where your heart is racing? You can hear the sound of your pulse in your ears, you feel light-headed or dizzy… and it’s not because a lion was chasing you.
Most of us are well versed in regular encounters with stress. Whether it is a deadline at work, a conflict with a colleague, or a presentation to some senior executives, we’ve all been faced with a challenging situation that sends our mind and body into overdrive.
It’s important to understand the underlying triggers and the way our body operates in order to best deal with and manage our stress. Now, this is going to dive into a little bit of surface level biology but stay with me its quick!
How Your Body Responds to Stress
The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is responsible for all the involuntary functions of the body, like breathing, blood pressure, heart rate, and the release of hormones. Within this system, there are two subdivisions responsible for keeping our body in homeostasis (or balance). These are the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), which is responsible for our ‘fight or flight’ response, and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), regulating the ‘rest and digest’ operations.
This system equipped human beings well for dealing with a threatening situation. If under attack, the SNS system switched on and triggered a release of cortisol (the stress hormone), increased the heart rate, and shortened our breathing, all in preparation to fight or flight from the situation.
Unfortunately these days, we no longer go through the physical ‘fight or flight’ stages, and the absence of these motions prevents our bodies from returning to the PNS system once the threat has passed. To make matters worse, our bodies are not designed to stay in SNS for prolonged periods of time.
Our modern way of life has us constantly stressed and stuck in the SNS system. As a result, we are seeing the major impacts that stress has on the body as one of the main contributors to the chronic disease epidemic.
How One Breathing Technique Can Help You Cope
So what can we do about it? Breathing is one of the best ways to help our bodies return to the PNS system and thus manage stress and anxiety. The 4-7-8 technique from Dr Weils can help you do it in under 80 seconds! Let’s give it a try:
Start by exhaling completely through your mouth, making a “whoosh” sound (this is what you’ll do with all of your exhales!):
1. Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
2. Hold your breath for a count of seven.
3. Exhale completely through an open mouth to a count of eight.
That is one cycle of breath. Take a second in between if you need, and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breathes. With that one-second break, you have a total time of 80 seconds to move your body from the SNS to the PNS system. I think we can all spare 80 seconds to achieve this wonderful result.
This type of breathing acts as a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system. This isn’t like a pill that you can take and have a one off hit, as the effects are subtle at first but gain power from repetition and practice. If you do this twice a day, and any time you’re feeling stressed or anxious, your body will start to learn how to spend more time repairing and digesting.
You can never do this too often, but don’t do more than four breath cycles at one time for your first month of practice as you may feel a little lightheaded (which is totally normal and will pass). You can build up to an 8-breath cycle after your first month.
There are not a lot of techniques that I can say have such a significant impact on your overall health, but this is one of them. It is an exercise that is so easy and I cannot recommend it highly enough. I do it every morning when I wake up, throughout the day when I’m faced with a challenging situation, and it’s a great tip to go off to sleep with. It has changed how I manage situations, it makes me a much calmer person, and makes falling asleep easy!
You know that feeling that you often have; foggy head, snapping at family or co-workers, a sluggish demeanour? A typical Monday potentially? A lack of sleep, or a lack of quality sleep, is often the number one culprit for these and many other chronic health symptoms that we experience beyond Mondayitis. Dr. Michael Roizen claimed “sleep is the most underrated health habit” and I agree. It’s one of the easiest and cheapest (well free) yet underutilised way for our bodies to be operating functionally.
In today’s society, it seems to be a race to the bottom for who can survive on the least amount of sleep. Sleep, or rather the lack of sleep, has become a badge of honour and a symbol of our strength and power in the workplace. Anne-Marie Slaughter has labelled this time macho; “the relentless competition to work harder, stay later, pull more all-nighters, travel the world and bill the extra hours that the international date line affords you.” It’s like we think we’re making our bodies rich, but really we’re just going further into a sleep debt that is hard to recover from.
The shut-eye that you get every night needs to be perceived as more than just a time lapse till the next meal. This current perception is one of the main contributors as to why we face a sleep deficit. The reason the quality of sleep is often so bad is the dominance of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) throughout the day. Our SNS system is responsible for the fight or flight response. The stress, caffeine and deadlines we endure on a daily basis force our bodies to operate in a constant state of fight or flight. When we don’t expel this adrenalin, our bodies look for the next ‘hit’ of glucose to burn (instead of fat!) and without we begin to feel anxious, lethargic and irritable. Talk about a roller coaster for the body.
Sleep is meant to be a mechanism for the three R’s: restoration, repair and rejuvenation. There is literally no element of life that is not diminished by a lack of sleep. But how many people bound out of bed and feel energised after their 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep?
A study published in Science calculated that for the sleep deprived, an extra hour of sleep can do more for their daily happiness than a $60,000 (USD) raise! Of course, the science of getting more and a better quality sleep is all good in theory, but how do you put it into practice with all these competing demands?
Below are the five top ways to get better nights sleep.
#1 Treat sleep like a ritual: Commit to forming a sleep ritual every night. It might be a warm bath or shower, slipping into pyjamas that aren’t your old t-shirt from college but something specifically bought for sleeping, dimming the lights in the bedroom, and reading one page of your favourite book before hitting the hay. Commit to a set time that you’re going to go to bed every night for 30 days and treat it like an important business appointment that you can’t be late for. Going public with your sleep commitment – just like Arianna Huffington famously has – can be one of the best ways to adhere to it by including others to help you stick to your pact!
#2 Turn your bedroom into a sleep sanctuary: It baffles me how many people have made their bedroom into a multi-purpose room; a lounge room, a dining room, a tv room. I give them credit for adaptability with the space, but a bedroom should stay as a bedroom! Nothing but a bed, a bedside table and lamp, and some really great curtains. Treat the bedroom like a sanctuary where only sleep happens. Make sure it’s completely dark, as light destroys the natural melatonin which helps us to sleep. This darkness includes the absence of all electronic devices which leads us to number 3…
#3 Unplug yourself: Some people are going to think I’m suggesting cutting off your life support or an IV drip, but turning of all electronics at least 20 minutes before bed is a proven way to increase your sleep quality. That means all screens – laptops, tablets, smartphones, TV’s. At first if you think it’s not doable (some people have even told me they got the shakes and felt naked and vulnerable!), start with a five minute switch off before bed, and then every couple of nights add another five minutes to the tally.
#4 Activating the Brakes: So think for a moment that your body is like a car. When the SNS system is switched on, it’s like pushing the accelerator in the car and you steam ahead at full speed. But unless you want to be driving around all night, we need to switch on the breaks and bring the car to a halt. That’s where the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) comes in. It promotes the “rest and digest” response that calms the body down. There are several key ways to engage the PNS including: avoiding all caffeine after 2pm (including black tea!), any form of exercise but especially yoga and tai chi, and relaxation methods which relates to number 5…
#5 Learn How to Really Breathe: How many times have you hopped into bed and then 1000 different thoughts start racing through your head? Calming down the mind before we go to sleep is an art, but like all techniques, practice makes perfect. Focus on the breathe. Start by performing 10 deep abdominal breathes before slowing down your breathing and counting the breathes. This really focuses the mind on one thing and allows the body to relax. While I don’t normally recommend meditation before you go to sleep, there is a meditative relation exercise that promotes sleep and takes less than a few minutes. Close your eyes, and begin to visualise any stress or tension starting from your toes. Imagine it being expelled from the body all the way up to the tip of your head. Focus on each body part and think of any stress or tension like champagne bubbles leaving the body. When I do this exercise I often don’t make it past my knees before I’m in dreamland, but try it out and see where you get to!
If you want to perform at your peak and reduce the impacts that stress has on the body, focusing on your sleep is one of the easiest ways to do it. The best part is, it doesn’t require a pill, a vaccine or a certificate. The importance we should give to sleep really gives a new meaning to the quote “sleeping our way to the top”.
The health of Australian’s is suffering. The compounding cost of fast-food, obesity and stress are having far reaching impacts on both the economy as a whole as well as organisation’s bottom line. As we move away from the traditional 9-5pm model, pressure is building on businesses to relieve the tension that this causes among their most valuable asset.
The above infographic is a summation not only of the costs of poor employee health, but also the Return on Investment (ROI) that businesses gain from investing in corporate health initiatives.
With a considerable proportion of the population employed, corporate health and wellbeing programs are a significant way to improve the health of the Australian population while also increasing the productivity and longevity of organisations. Several sources of research now shows that organisations which implement health promotion strategies have an excellent return on investment. Can you really afford to NOT be investing in employee health?
What do you do now? Integrated wellness programs that are tailored to an organisation will save businesses money. Finding a corporate program which covers a wide range of employee health issues traversing
NUTRITION | FITNESS | MINDFULNESS
is essential to avoiding unnecessary costs and achieving a positive Return On Investment.
For more info on corporate wellness programs contact firstname.lastname@example.org