Last week the flu epidemic that seems to have been sweeping our office finally caught up with me. From feeling unusually achy and slightly sub-par while doing my yoga on Wednesday morning, I found myself a shivering, sweating, aching, snotty mess by Wednesday evening.
While my training dwindled into non-existence and I had to miss a race on Sunday, what I lacked in movement I made up for in sleep. Unable to get out of bed for a couple of days I also had plenty of time to listen to lots of health and fitness podcasts and I used the time to listen, learn and be inspired.
I began with a good dose of the Ben Greenfield Fitness podcast and it was through him that I discovered the Rich Roll podcast, a new revelation in my wellness listening (Greenfield’s interview with Rich Roll can be found here and is well worth a listen).
Roll is a vegan ultra-endurance athlete and health and wellness advocate, and his wife, Julie Piatt, is a vegan chef and a mindfulness and meditation guru. Roll leads on the podcast, but he and Julie have written a book together – The Plantpower Way – a cookbook-come-lifestyle guide, and in the initial edition of the podcast I listened to, they discussed the book together.
This episode also looked at the emotional drivers behind diet and behaviour. In particular it focused on the importance of taking a holistic approach to your health and well being, as well as on the value of meditation in nurturing your emotional and spiritual sides. Roll described it as ‘going beyond the kale‘, emphasising the point that diet alone is not enough for complete wellness. While you may choose to adopt a plant-based diet, rather than simply letting that be an end it itself, you should go beyond the green juices and lentils and take the increased vitality afforded by your diet to fuel other elements of your life.
Similarly, while exercise has its place and values, alone is not enough for total health. As Roll points out, you can be out running, which is ostensibly a positive act, but in that space you might also find that you are being very hard on yourself and running becomes ‘its own repression machine’. Of course running can also be incredibly liberating, it all comes down to the perspective that you bring to it, but if you are using running as an escape or ‘if you’re stuck in running and you get super compulsive about it, ask yourself, is that any better than any other addictive behaviour pattern?’
I found this perspective particularly helpful, as I know from my own experience that while sometimes I find running very calming and restorative, at others, (particularly at the moment when pain and injury are combining with the feeling that I need oomph up my fitness), running becomes its own source of stress and anxiety. Having someone else verbalise this has helped me to think about the role that running plays in my life and has allowed me to take a step back to reflect on where it is bringing me positive energy and where it is becoming an emotional and energy drain.
Piatt also stressed that running does not offer enough of a meditative space to allow you to fully enjoy all of the positive benefits of meditation. While it can offer a transformative and very positive space, it is no substitute for seated meditation, which provides a more complete opportunity for self-enquiry and self-discovery. It allows you to quieten the mind and create a reflective space between the goings on of the world and your responses to them. It also opens up a healing space for you to reflect on your character and priorities, as well as to re-balance the energetic mind and body.
While Piatt directed listeners to a guided meditation on her website, Roll promoted the Headspace meditation app. I have to admit to having the app but, at the time of listening to this podcast, to only being a few sessions in to the Take 10 series. So, with all of this positive talk of meditation, I used my bed-bound time to re-engage with the app and feel like I’ve really started to make some progress.
I have been trying to get into meditation since the yoga retreat in January, and have toyed with sessions on and off, but I know that to really ‘crack it’ I need to make meditating as much of a habit as my morning yoga sessions or lunchtime runs.
In a later podcast episode, but still on the theme of meditation, Roll interviewed meditation guru Light Watkins. Here the discussion touched on this idea of making meditation a habit. Watkins noted that the difficult thing is to break your bad habits, in this case, the habit of not meditating, rather than to adopt positive new ones. He used the example of a man who had re-engineered his bike so that the handlebars were backwards, meaning that when he turned left he would go right and when he turned right he would go left. It took him eight months of practising for five minutes every morning before he finally cracked being able to ride the bike down his drive. In this instance, as with meditating, it is not about the knowledge of how something is done or why it works, or even the processes that you need to go through to get the desired end result, rather it is about consistent behaviour and being consistent enough that your body eventually habituates towards meditating (or riding a backwards bicycle).
In Roll’s conversation with Light, again there was an emphasis on holistic health, giving the example of a Rubik’s cube, where every side of the cube has to be balanced. In this example meditation offers the tool to unlock the problem of the Rubik’s cube and restore overall balance.
I found this a really useful way of thinking about meditation and the body as a whole and it certainly gave me food for thought with regard to how I treat my mind and body.
My other valuable takeaway from Watkins and Piatt was the idea that we shouldn’t regard events or circumstances as wholly good or bad. Rather than polarising our experiences we should try to see the nuances and reflect on what can be learned from them. Piatt noted that ‘there is no human life that does not have any darkness in it…in order to be a fully integrated human being you have to have embraced both the light and the dark, it is what has made you what you are today. You can’t cut off a part of your existence and pretend it never happened’.
While this is a sentiment we may have heard many times before, I found it incredibly comforting and reassuring, particularly during a week of illness, which I had been regarding as entirely negative.
As this post has perhaps shown, taking time out, even when unable to get out of bed, can be positive and constructive. For me, it was a chance to listen to podcasts and to my body, to encounter new inspirational speakers, to meditate (unhampered by the feeling I should be doing something more ‘active’) and to reflect on the health of my body as a whole unit.
Here is where we start getting stronger.