I recently completed a Q&A for a magazine. The questions were great and I wanted to share my answers with you as I know that you will find benefit in them. You will also learn a bit more about my background and what makes me tick!
How did you become interested in the ‘mental’ side of wellness, coming from a physiotherapy background?
It has always been clear to me that the body expresses all that happens in the mind, the joy and happiness and the sorrow and anguish. I always found that my patients would experience huge emotional release when I treated their bodies. I would put my fingers into a muscle, and a patient would start crying or sharing about some trauma or challenge and as they expressed or released the memory or shared the thoughts the muscle and connective tissues would let go. I never worked on the body alone. I did my masters in balance around the pelvis and craniomandibular junction and as I delved deeper into all that was known at the time (2000) about problems in these regions of the body, I discovered more and more about the connection that exists between these body parts and the emotional system. Then I went on to study pain neuroscience, which is a subject Scientists have developed new and much deeper understanding of in the past 20 years. I was at the cutting edge of the discoveries and every new piece made more sense of what I had intuitively known and anecdotally discovered through my many years in the treatment room. It has been profoundly exciting and has made so much sense of everything.
I also know from my own body, that when my body is strong and balanced, flexible and agile, it shifts my mind. When I know my thinking is stuck, or I sense my life is out of balance, I start training my body and I find the path to shift my mind. When my life feels overwhelming and my load too heavy to carry, I start strengthening my body and the strength transforms my mindset. So, I have confirmed all my beliefs through personal experience and in the laboratory of my own life and body.
In your book, finding your Sweet Spot, you mention that you have applied your own personal experience to the advice shared in the book. What have some of your experiences been that led you to making a change?
I have been an ultra-endurance athlete for most of my life. I share the learnings I have gleaned from a few of the very extreme endurance activities I have taken part in. I took part in the Trans Alps 8 day running race, where we ran from Germany to Italy across the Alps over 8 days and 360 km. This event taught me an incredible amount and not at all what I expected it to teach me. I also share about my experience running the Grand Raide (Le Diagonal de Fous, (which means; the race of the mad) a mountain race across the mountains of Reunion Island. It is 167km long and took me 67 hours to complete. This was an amazing opportunity to study resilience, overcoming fear and fatigue and finding ways to draw on the grit and the reserves that sit at the bottom of the barrel within. You don’t have to do these events or run across mountains to take my learnings into your own life. Everyone is climbing their own mountain or crossing their own challenging island. In addition to these events, I share about my divorce, other relationship calamities, health issues and the experience of breaking both my hands at the same time in a skiing accident. This thing called life is a rollercoaster and my ride has lots for other people to take into their ride and use to help them. I think the fact that I have the science and the insight from my work to make sense of the experiences, helps my stories to be useful to readers and to offer them tools that I can vouch for, which can make life easier for them. I also had a disastrous fall off a mountain 18 months ago, and yet again, I got to test all my theories as I rebuilt my life and health after this calamity. I didn’t share this in my book, but this is the story I share in talks I do today. While it was a horrible experience, it did prove that the tools I share work!
How do you strive to be balanced in your own life? Is it possible to get it all done without waking up at 3am?!
Great question and one I explore at length in my book. I have had a real journey with balance and have explored the way to find it from so many angles. I think the essence of balance is doing one thing at a time and doing it with presence. I try to live according to my own values and spend my precious time wisely and say “no” where I need to. I am a student still and have much to learn as anyone who knows me will tell you 😊. I try constantly not to devote too much time to work, so that I have enough time for all the other aspects of my life which I think are valuable and important. One thing I am certain about is balance is not just adding and running as fast as you can. Balance is about choosing and mindful awareness. It’s not about living habitually; it's about being deliberate, every day. It’s possible to get it all done without waking at 3am if you give yourself permission to live by your own rules and spend your 24/7 on what is important to you.
As you work with a wide spectrum of people, what are some of the main issues that people are facing these days that are stopping them from having balance in their lives? Are there any common denominators?
People today are struggling with incredible demands on their time and attention. They are battling to be “always on”, connected through social media, and all the information that streams into our awareness constantly. People are struggling with their own disconnectedness, which comes from being “not present”. They land up abandoning themselves and then feel the pain of the disconnect. It's excruciating.
People keep adding more and more to their plates and have insufficient rest and almost no down time. Their nervous systems can never unwind and relax, and the spring keeps winding tighter and tighter, until exhaustion and depression or burn out is a real danger or even an outcome. People think they can work a disproportionate amount of their 24 hours and then save resting for the weekend or for holidays, but that doesn’t work. Just this morning as I sat down to write these answers, I heard someone say: “I’m just hanging in till December”. This doesn’t work. We need adequate rest and down time every day and every hour!
Why is mindfulness something that we should be interested in pursuing – and why do you think it’s something that many people struggle with?
Mindfulness trains us to be in the present moment. Not in the past or the future. It trains us to pay attention to the moment we are living. To get out of our busy minds and into our living bodies and present moment experiences.
Mindfulness teaches us not to judge, but instead to be curious and compassionate. When we engage with every moment with curiosity and compassion and try not to judge, our lives change. Totally change. I think mindfulness is the route, the bridge. It’s the vehicle that can help us navigate out of the storm of life into the calm of moment by moment living. Mindfulness brings us the awareness we need to live consciously instead of half asleep. It offers us the ability to slow things down, to breathe and calm our physiology and bring our biology into better homeostasis so we don’t damage our health. It helps us rest our frazzled nerves and calm our frenetic minds. Mindfulness enables us to enjoy the exquisite life we have been blessed to live, to notice how incredibly awesome it really is to be alive. It would be my dearest dream to help every person to become a degree or two more mindful.
What are some of the tools that people can employ to become more mindful?
The most often discussed and simplest tool is conscious breathing. Pay attention to your next in breath and the out breath that follows it. Notice the sensation of breathing. Notice how it feels to breathe a little deeper and to sigh your out breath out a little more profoundly.
Then, taking a moment to notice the sensation of having your feet on the ground, is a very easy hack that instantly brings you into the present moment and grounds you. Just experience the left foot and all the sensations it offers, and then the right foot. Pay attention to gravity and the sensation of being held to mother earth in this familiar way deepens this practice.
Lastly, deliberately pay attention to the thoughts buzzing around in your head. Watching them as if you were a fly on the wall in your own mind and seeing what exactly is going on in your mind. If you want to expand this tool, you can take the spotlight of your attention and shine it on something different to what your mind naturally wants to hold its attention on. This could be the sounds around you in the sound scape. The sight of a flame, a cloud, a flower, the sensations in your body even if it's a sensation like pain. Your mind will wander but keep bringing it back even if it's a thousand times over. The practice of mindfulness lies in noticing the wandering mind, rather than the success in holding attention on something. I often find people get bored with this. That’s brilliant practice, because noticing the boredom that comes up is where the value lies, and then meet that boredom with curiosity, compassion and non-judgement. Watching it to explore what it does and how it morphs and changes, is where the value lies. If the mind repeatedly wanders off back into the whirlwind of thoughts which lead one into another, that’s normal and when you keep coming back to the object you have chosen as your anchor, then you are practicing mindfulness very successfully. You will feel the benefits, even if it doesn’t feel successful. It really is that simple and there is no way to fail or get it wrong. Simple but absolutely life changing and absolutely brilliantly effective.
I love love and love sharing tools and hacks with people that can make their lives easier and I would love people to hear about The Sweet Spot Energise Your Work And Life So You Thrive, because I know it can help make their lives easier.
Warmly and with gratitude,