The first thing I believe makes a huge difference to ours mental wellbeing is to remove the word ‘should’ from our vocabulary. This little insidious insertion into our daily language can be the cause of a huge amount of guilt, resentment, and self-loathing which can have a huge knock-on effect to our mental state. Disguised as a motivator, ‘should’ does not bring with it the encouragement and motivation we often assume it does, but rather it forces us very firmly out of the present moment and into a state of judgement, negativity and shame.
Often when we refer to wellness, we assume that we are talking about physical wellbeing. But one can be physically very healthy but still be unwell, emotionally or mentally. What are the steps we can take to cultivate optimal wellness in all areas of our life; to develop Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing?
As a part of our series about “How We Can Do To Cultivate Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Juliet Lundholm.
Juliet is a yoga teacher and wellness expert who runs the bespoke Garden Studio in South London as well as helping celebrities and organizations with their movement and mental health projects. She has been practicing Yoga for over a decade and believes that yoga is not just what happens on the mat but also how it permeates into our everyday lives.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I grew up in Hastings, a small fishing town in the South East of England, with my mum. My father lived in Sweden so I spent every long summer over there with him. He lives in his ‘sommarstuga’ meaning ‘summer house’ out in the forest — it has no electricity and no running water, so it was always a magical glamping adventure when I was young — washing in the river, collecting water from the well and lighting fires in the stove. He was brilliant at exposing me to as much nature as possible and helping me to appreciate quiet and stillness. He is still living there now aged 70, although he has been persuaded to add a bit of solar power to the house! The rest of the year I was with my mum and did the normal things a young girl does, but I was particularly interested in acting and the magic that being someone else for a while brought, and I think that’s where my interest in what it is to be human began.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
Before I came to yoga I had an eclectic range of careers. I was an actress for 10 years but gave it all up to work in a high-flying city job. At the time I thought I wanted something more stable and externally more validating, I thought I needed to ‘be somebody’. Whilst I loved the job, I was subject to acute workplace bullying which led to burnout and nervous breakdown. At the time it was awful, but now I view it as the best thing that ever happened to me because I had the opportunity to learn so much about myself, to find out who I really was and to connect to that through yoga. As part of the burnout, I experienced something called dissociation — a sensation where you feel detached from your body, which is a coping mechanism for the self. It was at this time that I started yoga having never tried it seriously before. I needed a form of exercise that would challenge me without stressing my already fragile nervous system and it was during one these classes that I felt myself reconnect with my body. It was an incredibly strange and euphoric experience and from that moment I fell in love with yoga. Since then yoga has become much more to me than this, it is not just the physical benefits, yoga has the ability to shine a big light on who we are and the way we are in the world and once we can see that we suddenly have the ability to make choices and changes in how we want to show up in our lives. This is now what I try to teach and facilitate for my students.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
I was lucky enough to have a great stepfather who always told me I was brilliant just the way I was and encouraged me to go for my dreams. Sadly he died ten years ago before my yoga journey began but I hear his voice in my head often telling me to live the life I want. That sort of love has given me me so much courage. I also have the most incredible husband who believes we have one life on this earth and therefore need to spend it doing what is authentic and joyful for us. He always encourages me and gives me the space to grow and expand in the ways I feel I need to even if the idea seems crazy or uncertain. I couldn’t have pushed past the hard stuff without that sort of support. In a world where there are so many expectations and so much judgement these people are like anchors in the storm gently stopping me from blowing off course.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
During my first yoga teacher training I was pregnant and we had a study weekend two weeks before my due date. I was determined that being pregnant was not going to hinder or stop me from doing anything on the course that I would have been able to do before so as ever I joined in with the very strong yoga class to start the weekend. I knew I was pushing myself too hard but such was my passion and stubbornness I didn’t listen or care. As soon as we had finished, rather dramatically, my waters broke in the middle of the yoga studio. I was completely unprepared but nevertheless off I went to have a baby. It definitely taught that there are times in life when you must listen to what your body is saying rather than your mind. The body is such an intelligent organism but we often override it with what the mind tells us to and that isn’t always what serves us best. During my second pregnancy I was much kinder to myself. It also taught me you’ve got to be prepared for anything!
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Stephen Cope’s book ‘The Wisdom of Yoga’ is one of the most beautifully and cleverly written books I have come across when it comes to offering an explanation of the importance of this ancient tradition. He uses true narratives following personal stories of fellow seekers (as he calls them) who are all on a journey to find themselves and their place in the world. It reads like a novel which is what makes it so fascinating. He then weaves these stories in between an accessible explanation of yoga’s ancient texts, modern psychology, philosophy and neuroscience. He brings to life how yoga goes beyond a series of postures and breathing exercises and can be applied to enlighten every aspect of our daily lives. I read this book twice on my first yoga retreat, I couldn’t put it down. It explained meditation in the most understandable form I had ever come across and each story was so human and personal I felt like somehow he was talking about my experiences. It was the first time I felt confirmation that yoga really had radically changed the way I presented myself in life. If you have any interest in yoga and why to bother practicing then this is the book for you.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
I have always loved the quote, “All tempest has, like a navel, a hole in its middle, through which a gull can fly in silence” which I first read in Frank Ostasesk’s book ‘The five invitations: Discovering what death can teach us about living fully’. It resonates for me with the idea that no matter how chaotic or confused or overwhelming your life may be or the world around you is, the part of you that is your essence is always there, always steadfast, always safe and always whole. It will be my life-long quest to discover how to re-connect to this silent still part of my being amidst the constant noise, but when I do find those moments it helps me to draw energy and steadfastness and courage in the face of fear, and I think fear is a constant battle for most of us.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I am working on 3 long weekend yoga retreats for next year and for the year after. A yoga retreat is something I believe everyone must have the opportunity to experience. Most people will find it hard to commit to a full week (especially if you are negotiating children or holiday allowance), but a long weekend is usually manageable and just enough time to experience the magic retreating can bring. A retreat is an opportunity to step away from everyday life and gives just enough detachment to look at where you are right now subjectively. The yoga will help you to explore how you feel, what is happening for you, and what you really need in an honest and compassionate way. It’s like peeling back an onion both physically and mentally, removing the layers of tension, stress, complications, should and buts and allowing you the space to process what is usually pushed to the bottom through ‘business’. I’ve chosen a beautiful location in Spain so that our surroundings only enhance the experience of letting go. There is also something special about people who come together on a retreat and it is this that creates the magic. Despite everyone coming from different backgrounds and places in their life most people are searching for the same thing and it becomes apparent very quickly that you are not alone and that we are more connected that we seem to realise.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. In this interview series we’d like to discuss cultivating wellness habits in four areas of our lives, Mental wellness, Physical wellness, Emotional wellness, & Spiritual wellness. Let’s dive deeper into these together. Based on your research or experience, can you share with our readers three good habits that can lead to optimum mental wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
The first thing I believe makes a huge difference to ours mental wellbeing is to remove the word ‘should’ from our vocabulary. This little insidious insertion into our daily language can be the cause of a huge amount of guilt, resentment, and self-loathing which can have a huge knock-on effect to our mental state. Disguised as a motivator, ‘should’ does not bring with it the encouragement and motivation we often assume it does, but rather it forces us very firmly out of the present moment and into a state of judgement, negativity and shame. A ‘should’ also disempowers us from identifying solutions in a positive and proactive way, for example ‘I should exercise more’ reinforces the thought that we are not good enough to achieve the goal. Reframing the sentence with ‘could’ or ‘would’ — ‘I would like to exercise more’ — implies we do have the ability to do so and gives the brain a chance to search for the solution to make it happen. Removing ‘should’ from my vocabulary has been a transformational step towards greater self love and greater self care. Once you begin to notice the word you’ll realize just how many times a day you say it to yourself and others and just how destructive and negative it can be.
Secondly: Keep a journal. Journaling is a powerful tool for downloading all the thoughts and feelings that lead to overwhelm. Often it can be hard to decipher what you authentically think or feel when there is so much going on in your brain coupled with to-do’s and tasks that you mustn’t forget. Journaling is a way to let a lot of things go, to explore thoughts and feelings without deciding on one and to allow a creative space for self expression. The trick is not to dwell on what you’ve written and to treat each entry with compassion knowing that these are just thoughts and feelings and not a demonstration of who you are. I like to take my journal with me for my yoga practice, often when we quiet the mind we create space for new thoughts or feelings to come up that were perhaps buried under all the noise, so it is a good opportunity to get these down whilst I feel open and calm.
This brings me to my third suggestion: to learn how to use your breath. Breathing deeply can have a hugely transformative effect on your mental state. When we feel stressed or are under lots of pressure, our breathing unconsciously becomes shallow and often the inhalation is longer than the exhalation. This imbalanced breathing exacerbates the signal to the mind that we are in danger (the stress response) making us tense and prone to anxiety and mental health problems. Learning to use your breath is a fast (and free) way to regulate your nervous system and help you cope when things feel hard. Start with 5 minutes a day focusing on your breathing. Send the in breath down to the belly as you begin to lengthen the inhale and then focus on lengthening the exhale. This will quickly move you away from feelings of stress, tension or anxiety and into a state of calm because a deep breath sends more oxygen to the brain which signals the body to relax and lowers the heart rate. The more you practice, the more habitual this calming breath pattern will become and the more benefits you will receive.
Do you have a specific type of meditation practice or Yoga practice that you have found helpful? We’d love to hear about it.
I think meditation comes with a lot of baggage and misunderstanding. It has become something that people think they ‘should’ do and so a blockage or barrier to experiencing it often occurs. I have always found it hard to meditate in the traditional form of sitting on a mat in silence, and for may years made excuses as to why I couldn’t do it. Then I found yoga nidra and mindfulness, two practices which I find both accessible and transformational. Yoga nidra, also known as yogic sleep, is a conscious, guided relaxation practice that induces total physical, mental, and emotional relaxation and is done lying down. Twenty minutes of this and I feel the same wakefulness as I gain from an espresso and it’s extremely good for your nervous system. Mindfulness for me is an organic, daily practice and has no formal boundaries. It is the act of noticing exactly what is here right now including focusing on the senses, the sounds and the actions in the moment. I use this when I find my mind is super busy and flighty and I want to bring myself back to a feeling of being grounded. Washing up is great time to practice as you can focus on the temperature of the water, the feeling of your feet on the ground, the breath as you stand. It’s also really helpful to practice when you are with your children. They are constantly mindful, it’s inherently built into them — my son can be so focused on his game that he doesn’t hear me. I try to bring some mindfulness of my own to playing with my children so that I really see them and are with them in that moment. I practice strong alignment based Hatha yoga which focuses on moving the body in its natural and accurate way for optimum postural benefits. It’s a great form of yoga at any stage of your practice but particularly if you are a beginner because you learn the foundations properly which will prevent injuries and teach you to be in control of your own movement.
Thank you for that. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum physical wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
Perhaps most importantly for physical wellness we need to manage stress. Stress, I believe, is our biggest epidemic to date and is the cause of so much unwanted illness and pain. Very simply put, the body cannot function at its optimum capacity or harmoniously when the sympathetic response (the stress response) is active. This is because the body diverts all its energy and resources to the limbs, heart and heightened senses to prepare for fight or flight. This diverts energy away from anything it perceives as non essential (such as reproduction, digestion or repair systems). Once in a while this is fine, but you can see how staying in this state of stress for prolonged periods can begin to cause problems for many functions in our body. This is often why we get gut issues, skin issues, fertility issues and so on when we experience stress. To help the body to function the best it can, try to find ways to eliminate stress, whether that be yoga, relaxation, breathing techniques, enjoyable leisure activites, social events, etc. But, most importantly, take note when you are stressed and try not to brush it to one side or ignore.
Next, take care of your spine. Your spine houses the central nervous system which is involved in every system of the body from the circulatory and respiratory to the digestive, eliminative, immune, and hormonal networks. Secondly, the spine connects to numerous ligaments, muscles and tendons to all the other parts of your body meaning it is the epicenter of your physical being. Thirdly, it supports your head, which affects the way we experience balance and our audio visual senses. Any changes or imbalances in your spine’s structure or ability to function properly will affect any number of the above systems. The best way to keep your spine healthy is through movement. This is because movement not only retains flexibility but also dispenses nutrients equally through the spine. Yoga and Pilates are some of the best ways to maintain spinal health because the series of postures and movements take you through every plane of motion keeping you subtle and fully mobile.
Lastly, take off your shoes. We live in a culture where many of us will cram our feet into tightly fitting, hot and uncomfortable footwear which distorts our natural walking pattern. Walking barefoot can actually help restore this. When we wear shoes for too long we are prevented from using certain muscle groups that actually strengthen the body and we then rely too heavily on other muscles causing an imbalance, tension and torsion. When a toddler is learning to walk they are encouraged to do this bare foot as the feedback from the ground provides better proprioception (awareness of the body in space) and the muscles and joints work organically. As we begin to wear shoes frequently we loose some of the primal foot mechanics. Restoring your natural gait (the way we walk) will strengthen leg muscles to support the spine, improve balance and assist in correcting poor posture. There is also a hugely therapeutic benefit to barefoot walk walking, especially in nature, as it creates a grounding quality hard to experience through a pair of shoes. Just standing in the garden or on grass with no shoes on can have a very powerful sensory reaction that releases endorphins improving our mood.
Do you have any particular thoughts about healthy eating? We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?
I think there are a lot of issues with healthy eating; what it actually is, what we ‘should’ be doing, and what it means if we’re not doing it. It puts so much pressure and judgment on us that no wonder people find it so incredibly hard. We live in a world which is operating at maximum speed yet we are still expected to cook and eat the way we did when things were slower and when we were more connected both to the food we ate and where it came from. Most of us are living with constant low level stress, and stress wants sugar and quick rewards so creating new habits is going to be incredibly difficult when our nervous systems already can’t cope. Being mindful with food has to be a byproduct of being mindful in our lives and kind and compassionate to ourselves. It is incredibly sad that many societies thrive on making people feel not good enough (in order to sell the products which claim to remedy this), and this can result in a huge amount of people with a subconscious belief of ‘not being good enough.’ If this is your baseline, why would you look after yourself the way you would look after something you love? The best way I have found to deal with my own food issues (and most other areas of my life) is to treat myself with the same thought and understanding I give to my toddler. I ask myself ‘would I let my toddler eat that?’ If the answer is no, then I don’t have it myself, then my choices come out of love and respect for myself rather than from a ‘should’ or being plagued with guilt.
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum emotional wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
Name your emotion and accept it for what it is, that way you can start to detach yourself from it. The poet Rumi has a beautiful poem called ‘The Guest House’ which perfectly represents this. He talks about every emotion being an internal guest who we must welcome and listen to because they are here to show us and teach us something new. It can be very easy to get caught up in our emotions, so much so that we begin to identify with them even calling ourselves by that name eg. ‘I am Angry’. If we can step back and watch the emotion from a distance it becomes easier to see what has caused it, whether it is justified and what we can do to manage it. One simple way I work with this is to acknowledge and name the way I feel as if it were not belonging to me, i.e. ‘So this is anger’. Often that is all the emotion really wants, to be acknowledged. Then I acknowledge how it feels inside the body and in this moment of detaching we can see that we are not our feelings and we have a choice to keep them or to let them go. Often this simple detached acknowledgment is enough for the sensation to lessen or move on. It’s a really powerful tool to begin to take control of your own emotional wellbeing and can been seen as a mini meditation.
Find your own form of meditation. Many people ‘know’ the benefits of meditation and many people have good intentions to start but never do and many people believe that meditation it just not for them. But, contrary to common belief, meditation does not have to be an act of extreme silence sitting on a hilltop with your hands in prayer position — meditation is actually a lot easier than you would think and one of the top ways to cultivate good emotional health. Meditation can be more about beginning to be mindful and in the moment. When we do this we disrupt the normal subconscious pattern of forward or backward thinking that keeps us in emotional overdrive and allows space for what is here right now. This disruption to the normal mental flow gives the brain a break. Traditional meditation (that we usually think of) often uses the breath as a focal point for the mind and is an excellent and easy starting point. But if this doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t have to be just this, mindfulness has shown us that simply focusing on a daily task can be just as effective. Sports, writing, singing, dancing and yoga are all other ways to practice and are perfectly good forms of meditation. We need to let go of the notice that we have to do it right or not at all and instead allow ourselves to be creative so that we don’t block a system that can be truly beneficial to our health.
Lastly, I am going to include the biggest lesson that yoga has taught me — learn to respond rather than react. Most of the time we habitually react so fast to every stimulation we have no time to choose or pause or decide how to respond. This can lead to regret, shame, blame, anger, irritation and also an underlying feeling of no longer being emotionally in control. How can yoga help this? Whether we realize it or not in the moment, yoga shines a big bright light on our internal state of being and on the way we choose to navigate ourselves through life. In that moment, on that mat, we are quiet, we tune into ourselves and we see, perhaps for the first time, the way we habitually respond, the thoughts that spring up through the quiet, the internal commentary that usually gets stuck in the noisy subconscious and it all now feels blaringly loud and sometimes uncomfortable. The truth is how we are on the mat is ultimately how we are in our lives — only now we can see it. When we can see, when the light of awareness that yoga offers us illuminates all this, we have the choice to make changes, to choose new responses that serve us or to build a better habitual pathway. Yoga then becomes a training ground for life, a system to re-assess where we are, where we want to go and who we want to be, and then it provides a safe place where we can practice it. Over time, our new habits on the mat will become new habits off the mat and this is what propels me back time and time again. Yoga will not make you a perfect in a day. It will never make you perfect. What it will do is give you the opportunity and power to choose how you want to present yourself in your life, and the space to practice all this with compassion, acceptance and kindness. This is the reason why I find myself, all these years later, still coming back to that little rectangular space in front of me.
Do you have any particular thoughts about the power of smiling to improve emotional wellness? We’d love to hear it.
I have heard that smiling releases the same amount of endorphins as eating 2000 chocolate bars. I have never tested this theory! — but I know from experience that smiling is a natural mood booster and there can be a quality of ‘fake it ’til you make it’ about this action as smiling stimulates positive emotions in our mind. It’s also contagious, it’s incredibly hard for someone to frown in the face of a smile so, in smiling, you not only improve your own emotional wellbeing but those around you. It’s a super power!
Finally, can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum spiritual wellness? Please share a story or example for each?
I see spiritual wellness as being connected to something greater than onesself. This doesn’t necessarily mean religion, although for some it is, but rather a feeling of being part of a collective, that we are not alone and that we belong. I gain my own sense of spiritual wellness from the notion that we are all part of nature, that I am made of the same energy and atoms as a tree or flower, I breathe and live in harmony with the air, the wind, the rain and in this I gain an inner fulfilment. I would suggest taking time to explore and reflect on what your greater connection is and observing what this means for you and your inner life.
I also believe spiritual wellness is enhanced by having a set of values, principles, morals and beliefs that we can use to guide our actions. When we believe in something we feel passionate, this passion ignites something in us that goes beyond our mind. One habit we can form is to remind ourselves often what those non-negotiable values are and check with whether we are following them or not. This will help us be guided by our gut instinct and to listen to our intuition rather than always being guided by fear and thought.
Finally, practice gratitude. When we forget the gifts and joys and abundance in our lives and merely focus on scarcity and lack it is incredibly difficult to feel a sense of spiritual empowerment. We can re-shift our focus back outwards by noting everything and anything we are grateful for right now. I do this by keeping a gratitude journal and writing 10 things each night I am grateful for. This could be as simple as ‘I have a roof over my head, I have food in my fridge’. This practice will bring you very firmly into the present moment, lifting your mood and lowering anxiety, stopping you from going into overdrive by reminding you of the small things you can appreciate in your life right now and showing you just how many things are already abundant in the world around you. It is an incredibly powerful tool and can turn a cycle of negativity and inward thinking into a more productive, happier and spiritual way of being.
Do you have any particular thoughts about how being “in nature” can help us to cultivate spiritual wellness?
I believe we are fundamentally part of the earth and the earth is part of us — literally, metaphorically and energetically. Our evolution was born from the subtlety and magic of nature and it is the disconnection from that source that causes so much of our dis-ease as a species. We are not designed to sit at computers in artificially lit rooms, or to process the amount of information and stimulants we encounter every moment of every day. If nature is our root then we are living at the very tip of the tree top and it is no wonder we feel apart from a sense of spiritual awareness. Whilst there are obvious and practical benefits from nature such as vitamin D and fresh oxygen, there is also the benefit of wonder. Wonder is something we have as children as we discover things for the first time but it gets quickly lost through the years until we don’t always notice the incredible and unbelievable things right in front of our eyes. Spiritual wellness does not have to arise from a month of silence sitting on a mountain, but spending time in nature can remind us that we live in a delicate balance with nature and each other. We are literally surrounded by life in all forms, shapes and sizes, and that always fills my cup of spiritual wellness as I feel more connected to something that is greater than just me — life.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Love yourself and be yourself exactly as you are. There is only ever going to be one of you in the whole existence of mankind and this is amazing, you are amazing. So, go for your dreams, not the dreams you think are expected of you, but the ones that light you up and make you feel like you’ve come home. I think if we all gave ourselves permission to go for what made us happy and filled us with joy we would have a world of prosperity and happiness.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
Sir David Attenborough without a doubt. He is one of the most inspiring, genuine and humble people I can think of in the public eye. The one thing I would like to talk to him about is why and how he never seems to give up hope even when he is at the very forefront of how mankind is destroying nature and the world around us. He seems not to have become bitter or cynical and I think that’s such an honorable quality.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can head over to my website www.yogawithjuliet.co.uk everything you need to know is there, including my upcoming retreats.
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.