Category: YOGspiration (Page 1 of 3)

Can We Go Deeper When Dealing With Depression In Athletes?

This last week after the passing of my friend and former rugby colleague Dan Vickerman has been mournful and reflective. Many articles have come out regarding the implications of suicide and depression among professional athletes, even prompting several fellow rugbymen to step courageously forward  and share their own struggles both during and post career. It also pleases me  to see a number of high profile individuals come together to spark campaigns of support, encouraging sufferers of mental and emotional anguish to speak up seeking help.

However, I can’t help feeling  that many of the points being raised and calls to action in the name of suicide prevention, still fail to address a deeper issue and in my opinion the most important with regards to mental health problems in elite athletes, especially upon retirement.

This is an issue close to my heart, because I am seven years into my retirement after a 12 year professional rugby career. While I am fortunate to say that I have managed to navigate my way around any cause for deep depression, I have certainly stood at the edge of the slippery slope into those depths.

The dark period I refer to occurred shortly after breaking my neck in a professional match in France, from which I was extremely lucky to walk away, but it ended my career and left me with an arduous road to recovery. I was wrought with fear and uncertainty, and immediately felt a loss of identity, causing bouts of depression and anxiety that led to excessive alcohol consumption as a coping mechanism.

061208 - Toulouse v Newport-Gwent Dragons Marc Stcherbina is treated for a neck injury © Huw Evans Picture Agency

061208 – Toulouse v Newport-Gwent Dragons
Marc Stcherbina is treated for a neck injury
© Huw Evans Picture Agency

I was definitely comforted however, by the fact that I had saved enough money, combined with a career ending insurance policy to not have immediate financial concerns. But it was the lack of identity factor that lingered, and which I believe is a deeper, often neglected layer when considering causes of depression for retired athletes.

Athletes are often warned of the potential hardship associated with retiring from sport. Perhaps they are not as readily and forcefully communicated as they could be, but there is by no means an absence of information. From early in my career, I received plenty of advice from various sources about preparing for life after sport, such as the need to consider having a career back up plan and even some form of financial safety net to endure the inevitable decrease in salary. I felt that Rugby organizations and player unions for the most part were considerate of player welfare in terms of physical care, nutrition education, media training and networking opportunities to cultivate business relationships which could become useful both during and post career. I even recall a member of the police department giving a presentation to the team about legal implications and appropriate action when confronted with compromising situations in public bars. Players also had access to sports psychologists to coach them on how to develop their mental skills in order to optimize performance on the field.

But among all the tools provided to the players to ensure we performed and behaved up to expectations while being clever with our finances, in hindsight there was a glaring omission. There was no form of emotional intelligence or self-awareness education, in a unique environment of extremes that can provide great joy and opportunity, yet can also lead you down a dark alley.

Let me explain further…professional sport can develop an unhealthy relationship with the ego. There are not many professions where tens of thousands of people turn up to watch you “work”, children wait for hours just to get your autograph or shake your hand, and you see your face in the newspaper or on TV on a regular basis. Let’s not forget the free products, VIP access, the recognition from strangers, police escorts to games. etc. etc.

It’s quite easy for players to become attached to exterior sources of validation, and even addicted to the hedonistic perks that come with this newfound status and increased wealth. What’s worse, is they also tend to define themselves by it, even developing a sense of entitlement.

I myself battled with this notion throughout my career, which in some ways was my eventual saving grace. What I mean is that I was never completely comfortable with the ego boosting spoils and often didn’t feel deserving of them. While I enjoyed the challenges of building character, pushing my body to the limits and the intense camaraderie forged with team mates in high pressure situations, I was still searching for my purpose, and never fully understood what it meant to play sport for money. Even now I am still transitioning, or in life coaching jargon, searching for my “why”, and I do believe that my self awareness and curiosity about emotional development has made it easier to detach myself from the professional athlete identity, and I have learned to enjoy the journey of reinventing myself.

For others, this is not necessarily the case, especially for the Dan Vickermans of the world, who played on a much bigger stage than me for a decade, exposing him to even greater highs, which can lead to crippling lows when those highs become a thing of the past.

depressed-sportsman

I want to be clear that I am not suggesting this was an underlying reason for Dan Vickerman’s decision to take his own life. Rather, I am theorizing that this may be the case for many high profile athletes and am merely using Dan’s tragic circumstances to raise awareness of these possibilities.

So yes, there needs to be a more concerted effort in creating a safe environment for those suffering from mental illness to talk about their problems, but I am proposing that there should also be an educational component involving emotional intelligence and mindfulness. Where players are introduced to and encouraged to contemplate topics such as:

– Positive and negative aspects of the ego and self esteem.

– Seeking self worth and validation from within and not exterior influences.

– Considering and possibly re-evaluating ones metrics for success.

– The stigma of what it means to be a man in the intensely aggressive contact sport environment.

– The origins and management of fear based thoughts.

– Humility, gratitude and the art of giving.

In the seven professional organizations for which I played, there was not one which properly assessed or provided extensive coaching in the above subjects. Most coaches were well versed in character building, leadership skills and enhancing team culture, but rarely did they communicate lessons about vulnerability, emotional attachment and self-identity, and neither is it necessarily their job.

Just like our physiotherapists and trainers prescribed “prehabilitation” programs to help us avoid physical injuries, why shouldn’t the same be done for the mind?

I believe there are a number of ways organizations can introduce some of the aforementioned topics. For example:

1) Yoga classes – not only is it great for prevention of injury and increased movement potential, but classes which include the spirituality element can start players on a positive path to self awareness, the mind-body connection and the meaning of happiness.

2) Player led discussion groups – one hour per week can be devoted to talking in groups about various topics pertaining to the emotional aspects of being a professional sportsman.

3) Influential Guest Speakers – Several motivational speakers were invited to talk to my various teams throughout my career, but it was almost always in an effort to inspire us to win the big important game that weekend or pull us out of a form slump. Why not have leaders in philosophy and/or mental health address the team?

4) Book or podcast of the week – why not have players taking turns in recommending their favorite audiobook, podcast episode, or even just movie scene which provides insight into mastering our thoughts and emotions (perhaps combine it with point #2). My life turned around when my teammate Xavier Rush recommended I read “The Power Of Now” by Eckhart Tolle and set me on a relentless crusade for self-growth. With regards to regulating our thoughts and emotions surrounding fame, fortune and happiness I also recommend the following, to name just a few:

– The Consolation Of Philosophy by Boethius

– The subtle art of not giving a f#*k

– Tim Ferriss podcast episode 221

5) Meditation – This is becoming increasingly mainstream, with many leaders in business acknowledging regular meditation practice as a key to their success. Professional Rugby can be a highly stressful vocation, therefore calming the mind and achieving clarity should be just as important for athletes as lifting weights, and will also benefit the process of approaching retirement and beyond.

6) Volunteer work – It is wonderful that teams can be seen devoting their time for various charity work within the community, such as visiting the local children’s hospital or attending fundraising events. But I feel it would be even more beneficial for the player’s personal growth if they tried to also give back with total anonymity, rather than under the guise of a celebrity, or just fulfilling an obligation as a contracted player.

By incorporating such practices into the team’s regular playing and training schedule, the issue of mental health management will be seen as more “normal”, and hopefully will result in players being less reluctant to express their own struggles. Furthermore, it will cultivate a more informed, empathetic audience upon receipt of those difficult, vulnerable confessions.

Another huge factor that I haven’t addressed and should not be discounted, is the correlation between head injuries and depression. However, I will save that can of worms for another discussion and give it the proper attention it deserves.

The passing of Dan Vickerman has left us all in a state of shock, sadness and in search for answers. We must not let the death of Dan, and the many before him under similar circumstances be in vein. Let us keep discussing, but more importantly implement measures that empower our elite athletes to take control over, and comfortably communicate their thoughts  from a stable place, rather than letting it become a desperate plea of hopelessness, or in my young, fallen friend and colleague’s case, irrevocably worse.

How A Training Journal Saved My Neck

Ok, so the title may be a little misleading in the hopes of getting your attention, but there is an element of accuracy to it and a great sentiment behind it. So let me explain…

During my professional rugby career, I was required to train hard and often. My weekdays were mainly spent doing speed work on the track, strength training in the gym, or skill work on the field.

It was the norm that we used training diaries or journals to log the results of the activities prescribed by our Athletic Trainer, especially from our weight training program.

I found using a diary both helpful and a hindrance, and my commitment to writing down my performance after each exercise was inconsistent. While it was handy having previous scores written down as a reminder of where I was and a what to improve upon, I didn’t always remember to keep track, or on some occasions bring my diary to the gym at all!

The obvious benefits of using a training diary became apparent to me when I broke my neck playing rugby. After a successful surgery, I faced a long, hard road to recovery, and little did I know that the humble training diary would become my best friend during this difficult period.

keeping-a-training-journal_02

Stepping Stones

When the fusion of my fractured C4/C5 vertebrae was strong enough, it was time to embark on my neck rehabilitation. I suffered extensive nerve damage to my right arm also, which now resembled that of a 6 year old child due to the muscle atrophy which had occurred.

Despite the risks and my new infantile physique, I was determined to play rugby again. At 32 years old however, I knew that I would have to cross my ‘t’s and dot my ‘i’s if I was to return to the field while I was still young enough to perform.

So I made myself a training diary, which included a “Goals” section in the back of the book, and the first thing I wrote in the diary was my long term goal – “MAKE STARTING TEAM FOR FIRST GAME OF NEXT SEASON”. That gave me 9 months.

I would then set a series of shorter range goals as stepping stones to the Long term goal. This was important not only as an indicator of whether I was on the right track, but makes the long term goal seem less overwhelming. If you’re climbing a mountain, it can be too daunting and discouraging to keep looking at the summit, so setting your sights on each base camp will seem more achievable and hence more motivating.

looking-up-at-the-mountain

Keeping your discipline

When trains become derailed it can have disastrous consequences. This was my mindset when it came to sticking to my rehab program. The programs that my neck specialist and Strength and Conditioning Coach gave me were the train tracks which were laid down for me, and my training diary would ensure that I stayed on the tracks, otherwise my life was in danger if I attempted to take the field again with an under-strengthened neck, shoulder and arm.

This sentiment helped me remain disciplined and focused. Disciplined to remember my diary. Disciplined to stick to my program and write down my scores. Disciplined to review my performance and assess the achievement of my short term goals.

When you write down your performance in a training diary, you now become accountable to yourself, and the numbers don’t lie. The great US Olympic track sprinter Michael Johnson says in his book Slaying The Dragon that he ensures he doesn’t “blur the edges” of his training program. If it says do 10 reps, you must do 10 reps, not 9.

michael-johnson-victory

Listen to your body through your diary

Just as it is important to be strict and work hard to achieve your goals, it is equally important to be aware of any signs of overtraining, and take measures to prevent any illness or injury as a result.

Your training diary can provide valuable information about any plateaus in performances, which are prime indicators that overtraining may be occurring, in which case a reassessment of the training program may be necessary.

In my training diary, I also include a scale of how I am feeling before and after training, and be sure to make a comment of things like muscle soreness, lack of energy, quality of sleep etc. which can all be valuable indicators that I need to back off.

overtraining-in-fitness-800x534-1160x665

What kind of diary?

Your diary can be as simple or elaborate, as large or small as you want. A simple blank notebook is better than nothing. I recommend however using a diary that has a clearly set out format making it easier to write down info and clearer to read and compare when you review sessions.

Some people don’t mind having a large and bulky all-in-one folder with compartments in which programs and other information can be kept. Others prefer a more discreet pocket sized version which more easily transported and less obnoxious. Bear in mind though that these can easily be misplaced, so I tend to go for something in the middle.

To ensure that I get in and out of the gym in a timely fashion, I like to fill in as much of the session as possible in my diary before the workout, especially if I am transferring info from a separate training program.

There are some good training diary apps out there too which obviously negate the need for pen which is desirable. I recommend JEFIT Workout and Fitlist apps.

However, I like to keep it old school with a paper booklet and pen for a few reasons, but mainly to limit the use of my phone and temptation to be distracted by apps, texts and emails which can deter the quality of my workout. So unless you’re a doctor on call or an Instagram influencer, leave the phone in the car and grab your training journal and pen to optimize the quality of your session.  Where can you find a good diary you ask? You can order the very diary I used for my neck injury rehab and still use myself and give to my clients today. Just click the link below to order.

diary example for blog post

Your New Year Checklist For Dominating 2017

In the spirit of New Year’s resolutions, here’s a checklist of the 11 top things to do right now to help ensure you make the most of 2017, and set you up for a future of success and YOGness.

  1. Download a time management app

For most of us, many hours went to waste in 2016 due to poor time management. As our lives get busier and more distractions emerge around us, we develop an even greater propensity to procrastinate or misspend our precious time.

Having an organizer that can help you plan and complete your daily “to do” list is a valuable productivity tool.

There are many apps out there for this purpose, but I like to use the Wunderlist app which allows you to set tasks and sub tasks within projects and sorts them into a daily or even weekly to do list while sending you reminder notifications.

wunderlist-eg

2. Buy a large water bottle

There is no doubt about the necessity of water for survival, so it should be no surprise either that there are countless benefits of water to our health, function and even maintaining a youthful appearance. After all, we are comprised of up to 80% water.

The minimum recommended intake of H2O for adult males is 2.7 liters, and we normally get 20% of that through food. It can be difficult to remember to drink the other 80% we need, so investing in a large stainless steel or glass bottle to carry with you everywhere is my recommendation.

Treat yourself to a 40oz stainless steel bottle from Mobot, which also doubles as a foam roller, and aim to drink two full bottles per day to meet your minimum requirement.

If you want to take your health to the next level, then invest in an alkalizing water filter. Our friends at Life Ionizer will sort you right out.

mbot-thumb

3. Buy a group fitness membership

I know, the fitness kick from January 1st vibe is so cliché, but no harm in playing along. Problem is, so many people buy new gym memberships, or commit to finally using the one they already have, then inevitably end up just donating money monthly to their respective fitness boxes as soon as February rolls around as life becomes hectic again.

This is partly why I recommend a group fitness membership instead. Your motivation is likely to remain higher in an environment where other people are contributing to the overall energy and a good trainer is keeping you honest while sweating safely. The social aspect and sense of community in group sessions is also likely to keep you wanting to come back for more.

I recommend places like Training Mate, Soul Cycle or even sign up for a team in a semi-competitive sports league like mixed flag football or ultimate Frisbee. This way, you’re not just letting yourself down, you’re also letting down others by choosing to stay home overdosing on ESPN instead of lacing up the trainers for the real deal.

training-mate-01-600x450

4. Block out 1 weekend per month for a road trip

I am speaking mostly for Angelenos, but the vast majority of major cities around the world have great weekend or day trip destinations within a few hours drive, or at the most, a 60 minute flight.

Getting away from the rat race is important not only for achieving balance, but also enriching our character, and it need not be any more than loading up the car with a tent and surfboards, or hiking shoes and a picnic basket.

If taking a domestic flight from LAX is a bit steep, then a road trip to any of California’s great National Parks such as The Sequoias, Big Bear, or Joshua Tree should be high priority.

Don’t feel like driving? Take the train down to San Diego for an overnighter, or maybe just to San Clemente for a Sunday Funday.

cali-road-trip-1

5. Prepare for Yoga and meditation

This may seem like two checklist items, but these go hand in hand. If you’re not convinced about the benefits of yoga for your daily life, refer to our article about Yoga for YOGs HERE.

In L.A.,  yoga studios are as prolific as plastic surgery, but if I had to choose, Yoga Works normally provides a great experience for all levels in several locations, and there are often good deals on Groupon to help give you the extra push to sign up.

While Yoga helps quieten our minds and center our energy, it isn’t enough to rely on as your sole dose of meditation. Seeking more meditation practice will help you dominate 2017 and execute all aspects of your life at a high frequency.

Guided meditation sources are popping up everywhere, and the Headspace app is leading the charge. Start with just 5 mins per day and build up to as long as you’re comfortable with.

headspace-cartoon

6. Simplify your HQ

Over time, we accumulate lots of stuff, especially over a whole year if we don’t de-clutter regularly. When we have more stuff, we have more stuff to manage which can be overwhelming and stressful. Start with your home. Clear your bedroom of objects you simply don’t need to free up some space. For inspiration, watch “Minimalism” on Netflix immediately. If you have a home office, aim for a completely object and paper free desk. Downsize your wardrobe by donating any clothes to Goodwill that you haven’t worn in a year. Watch the documentary “The True Cost” for extra motivation.

You can also spring clean your phone by deleting contacts, unused apps and social media followers or “friends” . Go through these lists and unfriend/unfollow anybody you don’t know well or doesn’t have a positive influence on your life. You’ll be surprised how liberating this can be.

cluttered-desk

7. Create a “live life to the fullest” reminder

I shared my most recent and powerful “life’s short” trigger in our last article How I really feel about turning 40. It could be a quote that you frame and hang in your bathroom where you’ll see it first thing every morning, or even make it your smart phone wall paper. By constantly reminding yourself that you have one chance at this life, and time is ticking away ever so quickly, it will hopefully allow you to eradicate your fear based thoughts and go out to chase your dreams.

carpe-wrist

8. Get rid of your TV

I know this may sound a little extreme, but your television set is often the source of many non-redeemable hours of life disappearing into a black hole of waste. The way I look at it, ridding yourself of your TV is similar to taking junk food out of your fridge. If it’s not there, you won’t eat it. I prefer to have a Netflix account on my laptop, which is similar to having a corner store where you can still buy junk food, but you’ll only make the trip if you can be bothered or have something you really want to eat.

Don’t get me wrong, a little entertainment media is a good way to help us switch off our brains after a stressful day or provide some much needed laughs. Just try to be disciplined and avoid binge watching consecutive seasons of popular fictional shows for hours on end, and make an effort to balance it out with uplifting and educational documentaries.

no-more-tv

  1. Buy an Audible account

Read more books this year. And if you’re like me, whose only time to read is bedtime which normally lasts 5 minutes before falling asleep, then audiobooks are for you. Audiobooks can be handy when stuck in traffic on the way to work, cooking your evening meal, or even working out at the gym.

For a reasonable monthly fee of $15, an Audible account offers discounts and 1 credit for any purchase per month, which can accumulate up to 6 credits at any time.

audiobook-headphones

10. Put a nutrition plan in place

We all say we’re going to eat healthier this year, but how many of us even devise a plan, let alone stick to it?

Improving our nutrition will also require some education on better food choices and also meal preparation. It’s a constant, fulfilling practice. For education, there are many great documentaries out there such as Food Matters, Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, and Sugar Coated to put you on the right path.

Too busy to prepare and cook your own healthy meals? Meal delivery services can be an excellent way to ensure you’re putting the right stuff in your body to suit your lifestyle.

I like Fresh n’ Lean which delivers pre-cooked, vacuum packaged goodies using organic, vegan ingredients that you can simply heat up on the stove. Stack.com also has a useful list of meal services for you athletes out there.

The best way to put you on the right nutrition path however is consult a reputable nutrition specialist. If you’re in Los Angeles, Clinical Nutritionist Dr. Bruce Fulford with prescribe the right diet according to your metabolic type.

fresh-n-lean

11.  Create a work vs play diary

Did 2016 seem like all work while your friends were all out doing cool, fun stuff? Or was last year fairly unproductive overall due to your social FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out)?

The work:play ratio can be difficult to manage, especially if you have kids or you’re trying to get that business off the ground. It can also be challenging staying totally present when engaged in either of the two, for fear of the other one suffering.

So it can be useful to not only schedule your leisure time, but evaluate it at the end of the day. Simply keep a diary where you rate your work productivity and quality of social activities and the reason for the rating. You will soon see whether the time is being misused. Setting goals for your work and play time will then give you more control over your quality of life.

play-vs-work-balance

 

Okay there you have it, well done for sticking it out up to this point, this tells me you’re keen for a good start to a big year. This checklist could have gone on, but I don’t want to overwhelm you. You should have a great basis here to use the month of January to get your shit together to start 2017 on the right foot, and maintain these good habits throughout the year and beyond.

Now go get ‘em Tiger!!

 

M

 

 

 

How I Really Feel About Turning 40

I’ll be honest, in recent years when birthday time rolls around, I hadn’t thought too much about getting older… until now. In reality, it shouldn’t feel much different to this time last year. But the numerical yearly value attached to my time on this Earth has a powerful effect on perception as it ticks over into a new decade. And the perception seems to be universal, which influences my perception even more, especially when the most commonly asked question to me over the past three weeks has been “so how do you feel about turning 40?”

There’s a side of me that wants to respond with “like the last ounce of my youth has just disappeared”, or “like a kidless, wifeless, lonely old guy”, or even “like I’m now officially losing the race against time”, because that’s what I think people expect to hear, and deep down might even want to hear to make themselves feel better.

race-against-time

But these are just projections which society has imposed upon me. They are common perceptions of many men in the same stage of their life as me right now. So instead of answering the afore mentioned question with any of these self loathing, pessimistic phrases, I reply, proudly and with confidence, “I feel great!”

And this is the truth. When I think about how I actually feel, and not how I should feel based on societal norms, I feel…great. Fantastic in fact.

“Why?” you may ask with a hint of skepticism. For several reasons, which I will list for you in point form:

– I am the most knowledgeable I have ever been in my life.

– I feel in the best physical shape and health of my life, due largely to my accumulated understanding of how to avoid and manage injury, optimize recovery, train efficiently, eat properly and apply an advanced understanding of my own psychology, especially relating to motivation and discipline.

– I have over two decades under my belt of learning from my romantic relationships, and 3 decades of professional relationships.

– I am the most self aware I’ve ever been, and the closest I’ve ever been to mastering the power of living in, and appreciating the present moment, rather than focusing on the past or future, neither of which exist.

– I am more committed than ever to surrounding myself with good people, and avoiding or eradicating those from my life who don’t serve as a positive or uplifting influence.

– I am far more advanced than my younger years with regards to knowing my purpose and eradicating my ego from decisions or feelings about…well…everything.

marc-10I’ve come a long way…

Of course, there are obvious physiological challenges we all experience as we pass a certain age, such as metabolism slowing down, muscle and joint pain lingering longer after intense exercise, and skin losing it’s elasticity hence youthful appearance. Therefore it is important to accept that it requires harder work and discipline to minimize such effects of aging. Embrace it, and revel in the satisfaction of not allowing the aging process to take hold and beat you down.

Further to this point, I have noticed myself occasionally slip into a self-deprecating and defeatist approach to aging. For example I might say things like “I was able to do that back in the day”, “take it easy on me (on the rugby field) I’m getting old”, or “my back is so stiff today after training, that’s aging for you”.

The mind can be very impressionable, and the more we talk this way, the mind-body connection kicks in, and the older we will look and feel.

So…I will commit from now on to refraining from using such negative language, and instead speak in a way that elevates myself and doesn’t consist of making excuses or playing victim. For me it is way more satisfying to overcome the challenges of getting older than simply giving in to them.

marathon-w-dmacYep, life gets tougher on the body, but so what?!

Turning 40 has also exposed just how much time has passed, and passed quickly, especially when my celebrations have reunited me with long time friends after many years of absence. It is yet another reminder to live life to the fullest and maximize the remaining time I have.

Moving forward, I’d like to be frequently reminded to stay on the path to living to the max. I stumbled across a tool that really resonates with me when watching a TED talk by Tim Urban. He showed a slide where the life of an 80 year old was represented by a grid of small boxes, where each box represented a week.

I took the liberty of creating my own grid and filling in the boxes that have already expired. It’s a mind bender to see an entire lifetime (assuming I live to age 90) represented on just one sheet of paper. I have stuck it on my wall and will continue to color in each box at the end of that week until I die. It’s kind of like my version of having “Carpe Diem” tattooed on my wrist or ankle.

life-by-weeks-copy

So gents, what I’m essentially saying, is that while it’s important to accept and embrace the aging process, using it as an excuse for not working hard to be the best version of yourself is no bueno, and quite frankly, unYOGish.

Find your own trigger that reminds you how incredibly short life is, and to be the best version of you which is capable of squeezing every last drop out of the rest of your life.

Tribute To A Legend

The Rugby World is mourning the loss of its original global superstar. Jonah Lomu launched into sporting stardom as a fresh faced 19 year old at the 1995 Rugby World Cup. But this came as no surprise for the many who had the privilege of witnessing, or even facing him on the field leading up to his record breaking world cup debut. As a 15 year old I was a witness, then as a 16 year old I was an opponent. On both occasions Lomu was representing New Zealand schools against the Australian Schools. I remember sitting high in the stands of the Sydney Football Stadium thinking that the New Zealand number 8 was impossibly larger than anyone else on the field, like a man amongst, literally schoolboys. He backed his size up with a barnstorming performance that night, which had tongues wagging at the prospect of a future world rugby sensation. The problem for me was, Jonah Lomu was still young enough to play another year of schoolboy rugby, and while it was a huge honor and privilege to be selected to represent Australia at schoolboy level to play New Zealand, I was faced with the daunting task of facing New Zealand’s newest prodigy…a 120kg prodigy at that!

That match against NZ Schools in Roterua in 1993 is now a bit of a blur, but I do recall certain moments vividly. Like my first tackle of the game, which involved Jonah Lomu picking the ball up from the back of the scrum and running straight at me to test me out. It wasn’t so much a tackle but rather him tripping on my flailing arms and legs as he steamrolled me like helpless roadkill. It was a tough day at the office for me, but with team mates like Joe Roff, Ben Tune and Mat Rogers, we put up a good fight. We were no match however for Lomu and his buddies, which included Carlos Spencer,  Christian Cullen, Anton Oliver, the list goes on…

The incredible thing about this junior giant, was that he was not only extremely large and strong, but he was fast. He had two options when approaching a defender – either run over the top of you, or run around you. This was most evident when Jonah was selected for the NZ sevens team to play in the 7s World Cup in Hong Kong, leaving dozens of would-be tacklers in his wake, and millions of rugby fans excited about the arrival of a sporting phenomenon onto the senior International stage.

Jonah 7s

It was actually playing sevens where I would potentially meet Jonah again on the field. In 1998 Rugby 7s was introduced as a Commonwealth Games sport, and the Kiwis went to great lengths to secure the inaugural Gold medal, selecting the likes of Lomu, Christian Cullen, Joeli Vidiri, Eric Rush etc. etc.

I was lucky enough to be selected for the Australian team for those Games, with David Campese as our captain. And while ‘Campo’ was a rugby legend in his own right, he wasn’t exactly Jonah Lomu. The impact of Jonah’s inclusion in the NZ team was evident at a tournament charity function where all the teams submitted a jersey signed by the whole team to be auctioned off. Jonah’s All Black 7s team jersey sold for over 10 times that of the next highest sold.

NZ gold at Comm Games

bronze

Unfortunately and fortunately, we never met the Kiwis that tournament, which would have been in the final had we snuck past the Waisale Serevi and his flying Fijians in the Semi Final. Instead, NZ took the Gold and we had to settle for a satisfying Bronze medal.

During the Commonwealth Games, my team mates Richard Graham, Tyron Mandrusiak and myself toured around the Athlete’s Village interviewing various athletes from different nations and sport, as a fun memento of our experience at the games. I caught up with Jonah to ask him a few questions about his experience, and the video below has only been for private viewing, until now…

During my Super rugby career with the Waratahs, Jonah, who played for the Hurricanes and the Chiefs, and I were passing ships in the night as a result of injuries on both sides. Again, not necessarily a bad thing!

Fast forward to 2005, and I signed a deal with the Cardiff Blues, and there had been speculation that a certain Jonah Lomu was also to join the club. This came as a surprise to everybody, particularly as he had already retired from rugby due to health issues involving Jonah undergoing 2 years of dialysis and a full kidney transplant.

But the rumors were true, and sure enough, Jonah was now my team mate. It was surreal for virtually all of us on the team, even players like Martyn Williams who had nearly 100 test caps under his belt for Wales, and played against Jonah already a handful of times.

me and jonah cardiff

Yet this was a man who was on another level. Jonah had etched himself into rugby history as a true global superstar. Even though his presence was unmistakeable when he turned up at his first training session, his aura had been softened somewhat by the fact that he was far from his peak health and fitness. He seemed almost human.

As a result, he didn’t make the immediate impact everybody was anticipating, with the Cardiff Arms Park experiencing sell out crowds with fans eager just to get a glimpse of the big man in action on their own soil.

But being the true champion and professional that he is, Jonah fought his way back against the odds with hard work and determination, improving his fitness and playing levels to shades of those we had seen when he was at his dominant best, only to break his ankle in the penultimate game of the season against Scottish Border Reivers.

Jonah Cardiff

Off the field however, I was actually able to get to know the real Jonah behind the celebrity facade. Quiet and humble, good humored and generous. He handled his superstardom with grace, and treated the game and his team mates with the utmost respect.

Jonah X dude and me

He was quite the jokester too. I’ll never forget the time I was in the gym, warming up with some barbell squats. I’d increased the weight to 100kg building up to the serious lifting, when Jonah waltzed over and casually asked “Hey cuz, mind if I do a quick warm up set with you?”

“Of course not mate” I replied, expecting Jonah to crouch under the bar, placing it behind his neck in preparation for some squats. Instead, he proceeded to shoulder press the bar, hoisting it into the air with ease, completely astounding me with his strength, while emasculating me at the same time. “Thanks bro”, he said with a straight face as he walked away to another machine.  I’m still not entirely sure if he was being legit, or if he was joking around with me, but knowing Jonah’s sense of humor, I suspect it was the latter.

That season would be his last as a professional rugby player, after which he stepped seamlessly into his role as ambassador for the sport, and various charity organizations.

jonah-lomu-naff-main

It is with a heavy heart I bid farewell to this extraordinary human, whom I have idolized since the age of 15, and will continue to do so until my last breath.

Jonah, you may no longer be a living legend, but a legend you will forever be. Peace be with you friend, but more importantly, THANK YOU…

 

 

MS

 

 

 

 

The Power Of Now

This International best seller by Eckart Tolle was somewhat of a savior of mine. Shortly after my career ending injury, my 2 ½ year relationship also broke down and I had also rented out my house and needed to figure out short term accommodation as I was planning on moving abroad to start fresh. It was always a tendency of mine to over analyze situations, with fear of making wrong decisions which could adversely affect my future, while also dwelling on unfavorable past events.

Having now found myself losing my career, my relationship, and my home, these tendencies were exaggerated and kicked into overdrive, fearing whether the decisions I had made or the decisions I needed to make were the right ones.

That’s when a concerned friend gave me the book “The Power Of Now” to read immediately, despite only being halfway through it himself.

Power of Now

Put simply, this book started me on the right path to being able to focus on the present moment, and to quit over-analyzing or worrying about the past or the future. As Eckart Tolle points out, the future doesn’t exist and neither does the past, and therefore worrying about them denies you the ability to enjoy the only thing which is real…the present, or the NOW.

The practice of being present is crucial when attempting to “live life to the fullest”, which is one of the main pre-requisites of being a YOG.

Tolle continues to talk about how our own minds and in particular our ego can be extremely destructive. He points out that our mind is a tool which is necessary to complete certain tasks, then should be laid to rest. Instead, our mind commonly leaks vital energy beyond its purpose. He suggests we actually become slaves to our minds, and if we can eliminate the “noise” which is created in our minds, we can achieve an intelligence beyond this noise and awaken a focus on the aspects of life which really matter, ie. Beauty, love, creativity, joy and inner peace.

So if the voice in your head is constantly talking to you about the past, or making you worry about the future, you need to read the Power Of Now…right NOW!

 

M

KELLY SLATER PERFORMS FIRST EVER AERIAL 540°

Looks like YOG Hall Of Famer Kelly Slater has done it again! The 42 year old 11 time world champ has reached yet another milestone, raising the bar for all those beneath him. This time, in similar fashion to pro skater Tony Hawk and his groundbreaking 900° air, Slater has successfully landed a 540° aerial, landing backwards after 1 and a half rotations. Even more exciting, is that it was caught on film!

During a lay day at the Rip Curl Pro surfing event in Portugal, Slater hit the water with fellow pro surfers Brett Simpson and Kolohe Andino.

The trio were interviewed about the amazing feat, with Slater remaining humble as usual about the maneuver, demonstrating once again his YOGness.

At 42, I guess it just goes to show…you can teach an old dog new tricks, or in this case, a YOD (Young Older Dog).

Keep up with Kelly’s progress in the Rip Curl pro HERE, as he looks to continue his winning form after winning his Round 1 heat against Matt Wilkinson and local boy Nic Von Rupp, advancing him straight to the 3rd Round. 

A Life-Changing Lesson For All

One of the most common epidemics infecting the world, particularly the developed world, is known as Taking Life For Granted. Sadly, it often requires one to experience tragedy, either directly or indirectly in order to pay more attention to, and show more gratitude for not only the precious breaths we breathe, but all the wonder that this universe has to offer.

So if we compare this wondrous life to, say, a large flowing river, then our body is surely the vessel that helps us navigate the waters, moving us forward in exploration, and aiding us through constant challenges.

Now ask yourself “What would I do if the boat broke down? Or worse still, if the boat sank?”

While this analogy may not be perfect, hopefully you still get my drift (pun intended), in that how important our body is for daily function, and how easy it is to take it for granted, and not keep it well maintained.

However, no matter how well maintained one’s vessel is kept, misfortune can still cause malfunctions, such as debilitating disease like ALS, or worse yet, Spinal Cord damage due to serious injury.

This is the case for 22 year old Welsh International rugby player Owen Williams.

Owen is currently in hospital recovering from significant damage to his cervical vertebrae and spinal cord sustained while playing rugby for his Professional Club team the Cardiff Blues at a tournament in Singapore in July.

Owen Williams in hospital

While he is making positive progress, the full extent of his likely recovery is still unknown, and the support from family, fans, and fellow rugby players from all over the world has been “overwhelming”.  A charity has even been set up in his honor using the hashtag #StayStrongForOws to help raise awareness through social media.

Not knowing if he will ever regain full use of your limbs again is a terrifying thought, and can stir up a myriad of emotions. Even though Owen, being a professional athlete must already have a mental toughness and determined nature that helps him remain positive while recovering from injury, there must still be moments of worry and even panic as he resides in the unknown and contemplates his odds of a full recovery.

I know this, because I’ve experienced just that. I also broke my neck while playing rugby and was paralyzed from the neck down for a good amount of time before being transported to hospital for emergency surgery, ending my rugby career.

that was a fun day

With a lot of luck, a great surgeon, and some determination, I have made a near full recovery, and I expect the same fate for Owen. The ordeal has been a life changing experience for me, in that I learned very quickly how important my arms and legs were, when I was faced with the reality of never being able to use them again.

To this day I vividly remember the emotional rollercoaster of being momentarily paralyzed, which serves as a constant reminder to be grateful for a fully functional body, and to celebrate the fact by using it as much as possible and challenging its capabilities.

One way I like to do this, is whenever I come across an elevator or escalator with a nearby option to take the stairs, I will take the stairs. This is not only a way of displaying gratitude for my working limbs, but keeps me fit too.

escalators or stairs?

I urge you all to practice celebrating your body more by taking the easy option less. Take the stairs instead of the escalator. Hike to places where cars can’t reach. Ride your bike to work instead of driving.

A further display of gratitude for your mobility could be in the form of volunteering for or donating to causes such as the National Spinal Cord Injury Association.

The #StayStrongForOws campaign is selling wristbands for the cost of a Budweiser. This is a great way to remind yourself constantly to appreciate your health, while supporting a young star in the making as he fights to get back on his feet…literally.

StayStrongForOws wristband

For those of you who struggle to relate to the possibility of damaging your spinal cord while playing a professional contact sport, perhaps the story of James Gribble will inspire you. James set up The Puffin Magic Foundation after becoming a quadriplegic when he feinted and fell off a stool while waiting to go on a fishing trip in Africa.

James Gribble

Moral of the story? Make the most of the amazing vehicle that is your body. Challenge it to reach it’s full potential. You just never know when the privilege could be taken from you.

 

M

The Summer Of No Regrets

“Life is short”. “Carpe Diem”. “Live Your Dreams” etcetera. Whether posted on a billboard or tattooed in script on a college girl’s foot, there is no shortage of cheesy inspirational mottos out there reminding us how to live our lives.

And yet while cheesy and clichéd they may be, they still provide a positive trigger which can momentarily help drag us out of the doldrums and into a more positive mindset.

carpe diem on foot

However, most feel-good mantras tend to be rather generic, only focusing on the bigger picture. Therefore it’s easy to stray away from the daily habit of “living life to the fullest”.

So just like any long term goal, it’s important to set some short term goals to bring you closer to achieving that dream, that vision or just simply that ideal way of life.

So we YOGs have decided on a short term goal to cover the summer period of 2014. Last Summer our motto was “Best Summer Ever”!

This year, we declare these next summer months as “The Summer Of No Regrets”.

This will serve as a reminder to neither hesitate, nor procrastinate. To speak to that girl in the grocery store, rather than admire her from a distance and let the opportunity pass by.

To book that weekend trip away even though money seems tight and work is overwhelming.

To call our close family and friends more often, even if it’s just to check in.

To see more concerts, to surf more, to try a different restaurant at least once every week. To pitch that business idea to an investor.

We invite you to do the same. Live these next few months as “The Summer of No Regrets”. Write it on your whiteboard. Stick it on your fridge. Verbalize it. Hashtag it.

#summerofnoregret14

The more you can apply this to your day to day circumstances, the less you’ll feel like you didn’t make the most of the Summer as it fades away into the Fall…

After all, the day you’re having is the life you’re living.

Former Rugby Star Turns From Blob to YOG

I had a smile like a split watermelon when I saw my old rugby team mate make a major life changing decision, and shed the weight that basically made him famous.

Matt Dunning try vs Argentina

I played with Matt Dunning at the NSW Waratahs from 2000-2002 (that’s me swimming in the number 13 jersey above) and he was certainly an anomaly. Despite his 125kg (275lbs) robust, yet slightly Mr Stay Puft type frame, he was one of the quickest, most skillful players in the forward pack.

Mr. Stay Puft

Not only was he a great player, but he was an entertainer. Nicknamed “Tucky” after Friar Tuck from Robin Hood, he was more like a cartoon character than a rugby player and he soon became a crowd favorite with his lovable personality and unlikely rugby playing ability. It was as if his body shape defined him and certainly set him apart from the rest, particularly in the eyes of the fans and media.

Matt Dunning wallaby training

Yet since retiring due to a career ending injury, his super-sized physique no longer served him the way it did during his Professional Rugby days. Furthermore, he was no longer carrying the same kind of muscle thanks to the lack of a rigorous daily training schedule in his heyday.

And now at 35, the commencement of his YOG years, he decided enough was enough.  Perhaps the YOG blog inspired him, perhaps not, but I’m sure it secretly did…either way, he found the strength to embark on a personal journey of self improvement and life enhancement. He decided to become the YOG he was destined to be.

Watch the following video and see his amazing transformation for yourself.

I asked Matt for some more information on how he achieved this amazing feat. His diet initially consisted of a combination of low calorie meal replacement drinks, meat and veg, and 4 cleanse days a month.

Matt Dunning diet

Matt admitted that he wasn’t always able to stick to the caloric guidelines, but a big part of his weight loss was the 4 cleanse days, as they “get rid of impurities and toxins from our bodies. We store fat to protect ourselves from these so getting rid of them allows us to shed more fat.”

He still maintains the 4 cleanse days, although he has increased his calorie intake to between 2000 and 2500 per day.

He said one of the hardest thing to do was giving up his beloved Diet Coke for the first 4 months. However when I asked if he gave up the booze he said “mate I drank like a fish for the first 5 months! Haven’t drunk for last 3 months. I’d already lost 36kgs of 41kgs when I gave the booze a break.”

He also said despite wanting to quit coffee, he still drinks it because he “enjoys the social side too much”.

matt dunning skinny

Matt at day 180 

This goes to show that a balance can be achieved between making sacrifices to achieve your weight loss goals, yet still enjoying yourself and the guilty pleasures in life.

Obviously his metamorphosis would not have been possible without exercise. Being an ex-pro athlete meant that Matt could devise himself a program which he knew would work for him and also have the ability to execute with proper form and discipline.

What’s surprising is that he didn’t start his training program until about the halfway mark, which looked something like the following:

dunning training program

So as you can see, this wasn’t a flash in the pan Hollywood quick fix regime, nor was it a socially crippling, soul crushing strictathon. Matt Dunning is essentially still Matt Dunning…just with a new wardrobe and cheekbones.

M

 

 

Page 1 of 3

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén