FOR A HEALTHY MIND, BODY & SOUL
As a student I majored in documentary film, I wanted to share stories that would disrupt the status-quo, and have us asking some of the big questions of our time:
Why can't we live in accordance with nature?
Why are so many in our society sick and depressed?
Is western culture the apex of civilization or is it like a tumour, growing without concern?
After school I struggled to make ends meet as a filmmaker and found a regular pay-cheque at a progressive organic food hub in Vancouver. It was here, amidst an ocean of green smoothies that I found an unexpected calling.
I began to see that the ways we approach our own wellbeing is an effective way to dig into the same questions I was keen to explore as a filmmaker.
I began with a focus on nutrition and was hooked.
Once you learn how backwards our food system is, you'll see it's a pretty easy thing to get fixated on and in the coming years I guinea pigged different diets, from raw vegan to paleo, and learned there's a great deal of truth in the sentiment that food is medicine, sadly, along with the realization, that there's very little medicine left in our modern food system.
This focus on nutrition, and the nutrients it provided, hit my, student-on-a-grocery-budget-body, and lit up a bunch of energy. I'd been an athlete my whole life but in my early 20's I was most adept at walking to the local pizza place and doing 350ML curls (if you know what I mean ;).
With the new energy I began endurance training and, with a few friends, raced a competitive season of triathlon culminating in the 2012 Whistler Ironman.
Ironically, it was during this year, where nutrition and fitness were such a focus, that I took a big step back in my health. I'd started a business that year and was in the throws of some major relationship and emotional turmoil. Compound that stress with the training workload of an Ironman and you've got a recipe for adrenal fatigue.
After the racing season my beleaguered body was sending burnout signals: I had low sex drive, felt tired when waking up and couldn't get fired up in my workouts which also seemed to take me longer to recover from.
I was fortunate though, I had a nutrient packed diet on my side and was already practicing a number of stress and recovery routines to look after my nervous system. Once I reduced my training volume I bounced back, but the experience taught me two critical lessons:
1. To respect the impact of stress (emotional, physical, financial and mental)
2. To listen to my body's signals and consider the root cause Vs. treating the symptoms
I set aside endurance training with a desire to make movement more playful and less regimented.
I saw a video entitled "The Workout the World Forgot" of a man moving through the landscape like Tarzan and knew this was the kind of physical training I was interested in.
The following year I certified as a level 2 MovNat trainer and ever since I've traded gym workouts for mountain runs that combine climbing trees, throwing rocks, carrying logs and swimming in the creeks.
By most standards I now had a solid health foundation...
I knew how to eat and the power of fasting:
After exhausting fad diet options I settled into a traditional or ancestral diet outlined by early 20th century dentist Weston A. Price. This has me eating an abundance of healthy fats and wild protein, veggies are eaten cooked, raw and fermented and what little grains I eat are soaked and sprouted. I also integrate organ meats, meat cooked on the bone and bone broths. I fast most days for 16 hours and seasonally for a longer fast. I try to eat seasonally and local as much as possible and enjoy great poops, healthy teeth, low mucus and inflammation.
I knew how to move and the power of conscious breathing:
Training for Ironman got me fit, but it wasn't much good for mobility and joint health because, aside from swimming, biking and running, I was missing all the other movement nutrients.
With the addition of natural movement and a more active lifestyle, I finally unlocked my hamstrings and hips, (something 10 years of yoga didn't manage) and I became adept at walking and running barefoot on varied terrain while learning to crawl, climb and jump through the landscape like that Tarzan guy.
Focusing on mindful breathing and a breath-work practice has helped to decrease the stress these workouts have on my nervous system and lead to more peace, calm and clarity in my life.
I knew the importance of managing stress:
I'd learned to respect the subtle clues my nervous system and body were telling me and practiced recovery techniques like meditation and breath work: this inspired my interest and eventual certification as a Heartmath trainer, a practice that uses mindful breathing and heart rate variability training to nudge our nervous system into the parasympathetic or restorative, rest and digest state.
Once attuned to these cues, I found myself spending more time in nature and less time in front of a screen – It also had me aligning my sleep, movement and working time with my natural circadian rhythm Vs. a social clock.
But something was missing, there were cracks in my foundation.
Throughout a five year period I'd studied the books, attended workshops and invested in trainings ranging from diet, movement, positive psychology, stress management, mind/body medicine, mindfulness and sleep.
I'd gone on to certify in the most relevant nutritional, movement and stress management programs I could find.
But the big picture still felt shaky.
At this point I had to acknowledge that my so called holistic health care approach was still mostly rooted in the physical domain of health.
I needed to go beyond this and get intentional with my mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing.
And so I went deeper.
A few years ago I began a relationship with Ayahuasca, an Amazonian plant medicine and also learning about the Red Road, the medicine path of the Lakota people. Combined, these two medicine paths opened up a whole piece of the ancestral health story I wasn't yet hip to – the wisdom of indigenous knowledge.
Around this time I also joined a Vancouver based conscious mens community called the Samurai Brotherhood, a small voice in a global chorus to shift the tired legacy of the patriarchy, committed to elevating the expression of masculine energy in the world.
Let me tell you a bit more about both of these:
Conscious Mens work:
In the tradition I've been a part of, mens work is a community response to the tired reality that masculine energy in this world is largely running an antiquated operating system, characterized by limited emotional expression, a lust for power, influence, sex and money, while maintaining a fear of intimacy and vulnerability.
There is an immaturity to this expression of masculinity, due in part to the feminization of modern men and the lack of a mature masculine culture to be initiated into.
I started a small mens group years ago but it faltered without clear direction and commitment. It was only after my wedding, where I witnessed the calibre of sisterhood my wife was a part of, that I got serious about finding a similar community. While I had great friends, the level of connection my wife and her girlfriends share had me wanting more.
That same year I began working with the Vancouver based Samurai Brotherhood – my experience in this circle was most refreshing. Men show up committed to helping one another resolve the blocks in their lives while also mirroring the potential blindspots we each have in getting there. After my families move to Vancouver Island, I have since started a local circle and continue to anchor a great deal of my growth in this type of intentional community
I first learned about Ayahuasca from a family member who had been treating her depression.
She'd learned of a community, operating under a great deal of respect for the culture and tradition of which ayahuasca is a part. In addition to honouring the ancestral roots of this medicine, this community worked with a renowned western doctor and psychologist, a man I'd read much about, Dr.Gabor Mate. (My wife, Christina Gooding, is producing a documentary about this medicine community which you can learn about here. )
I took the plunge and tried my first ceremony with this group a few years ago.
In my years working with this medicine, I've shifted beliefs and ways of being that equate with a level of wellbeing that alluded me in my studies in diet, movement, positive psychology, personal growth workshops and therapy.
In researching Ayahuasca, I was struck by how many cultures regard plants as powerful allies and teachers. But in the west we've labelled these plants as drugs, in the same camp as cocaine and heroine – and have little regard or interest in the powerful healing systems or cultures that they're a part of.
I believe an ancestral approach to health, must also acknowledge the systems of healing our ancestors used – and plant medicine of this kind exists or existed in many traditional societies around the globe.
I see this dismissal as a great example of how the Western story of separation and disconnection, limits our perception, stifles our potential and restricts our range of experience in the world.
As a result of this work what I've discovered in my pursuit for deeper experiences in health, comes down to this:
Health is largely a measure of connection and we western human beings are perhaps the most disconnected on the planet.
The question is, how do we reconnect and how might this benefit the individual, but also the planet, and what would it look like in practice?
This tact requires us to think differently:
If you ask Google what concerns westerners about their health, the answer for most of us is the risk of cancer, heart disease or the number on a scale – not the integrity of the food on the end of our fork, never mind our mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing.
This western tendency, to localize our health concerns and focus so intently on our physical wellbeing, has left big holes in how we approach our health.