As a journalist who writes a lot about mental and physical health and often reviews various wellness retreats, I am regularly asked about the things I’ve learned that have stuck, be it breathing techniques or mindfulness practices.
My response is always that I, of course, can’t assimilate everything I’ve learned, nor would I want to, so I’ve cobbled together a routine that works for my life and provides a loose framework that means I (primarily) eat foods that nourish me, (often) get enough sleep, (on most days) do something that makes both my mind and body feel good such as lying on a bed of nails (don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it – it’s like a mini massage) and talking my dog for long walks. As a consequence, I mostly feel fairly energetic and able to rise to the challenges of my day.
In my view, that’s neither self-absorbed nor wildly eccentric.
I merely choose to live in a way that supports my mental and physical health because I have struggled with both in my past and find that feeling well is preferable, so I prioritise that, and, in my capacity as a journalist and blogger, often write about the things I’ve found helpful.
And that is how, this weekend, I came to be on the front page of the Times as a case study in the feature entitled ‘Have You Joined The Cult of Wellness?’ – and in so doing attracted the ire of many.
I didn’t think taking part would be a particularly big deal – I write a lot about wellness and health practices and the things that I’ve tried and have found work. When the Times said they were writing about people who incorporate a wellness element into their lives, I was perfectly happy to be featured.
The responses the piece evoked were visceral and rather vicious, among which included tweets from various people with huge audiences and influence: @IanMarber ‘Is it wellness or delusion?’, @IndiaKnight ‘it’s no life at all,’ @IanDunt ‘imagine having to spend a single second in the company of these dimwits.’
Nobody opened the discussion as to why the case studies had chosen their routine, nor cared to ask. So I’ll state my case here.
I grew up in a huge family with people who all had wildly different lifestyles. My Mum has always liked nature and not found much joy in wine, my sister enjoys nothing more than sitting up getting drunk with friends until 4am and unfailingly eats chocolate every day, my brother loves to run in the gym and is hugely into cooking, while my Dad is 80 and in rude health, despite having never taken a supplement and smoked cigars whenever he felt like life dealt him a sweet hand.
I was never told what to do, what time to go to bed, what to eat, how to care for my body. The people surrounding me simply didn’t think like that – they were all quite eccentric and didn’t move as a pack.
I therefore spent years trying different things, many of which I latterly noticed were having an effect on my mental and physical health.
It was towards the end of my 20s that work started to get quite busy, and I realised that my haphazard lifestyle wouldn’t provide the energy I needed to do what I wanted to do. So I started to note what made me feel good, and what didn’t.
Then I went to VIVAMAYR, a doctor-lead clinic in Austria in which they effectively take your routine in hand, telling you what to do every day for a week down to the minutiae of when you’ll eat, sleep, and exercise.
There, I had a eureka moment: it was the simple, routine things that had the biggest impact on how I felt, and by tweaking them on most but of course not all days, I might enjoy my life a hell of a lot more.
With their loose framework in place on my return, I added elements of my own.
I sit at a computer for long hours, so found a ‘bed of nails’ (a studded acupressure mat) which I could lie on for a few minutes at the end of the day to up my circulation and ease tension.
I suffer from poor circulation, so body brush before my shower, then use a Hayo’u Gua Sha body massager in the shower.
I realised I didn’t really like alcohol and could get by perfectly well without it, so stopped drinking it and found it wasn’t missed.
Eating a lot of cow’s milk made me feel sick, so I dodged cow’s cheese and milk and only had it in moderation, or at a dinner party.
I liked sleep, and without enough of it, my days dragged.
Rather than find any of these small acts throughout the day stole away from my time spent enjoying my life or my loved ones, I found the polar opposite. Released from feeling constantly stressed and a bit run down, I found I had a hell of a lot more fun in life.
Despite some Twitter users’ best attempts to shame me, I don’t feel ashamed of doing what I need to do to enjoy my life in the slightest.
Ultimately, it comes down to this: my routine works for me. My social life hasn’t been negatively affected by it, my work is better, and, most importantly, I’m happy; after all, I’m the one who has to live in my mind and body, so hardly think there’s no issue whatsoever with my doing that as I see fit, provided it isn’t illegal or hurting anyone else.
And if other people have an issue with that, quite frankly, I think that says more about them than it does about my predilection to tongue scrape.