There is currently a resurgence of interest in healthy lifestyles as many people around the world change their habits and point of view to embrace a culture of wellbeing. A quick survey of health statistics shows that there is much in need of repair. The Ministry of Health estimates that one in four New Zealand adults are obese. Nearly 40% of deaths are caused by cardiovascular disease, with cancer not far behind as a leading cause of death. The best available evidence shows that poor diet, lack of exercise and too much stress are the main causes. In many ways, such diseases are symptoms of the Western lifestyle of mass produced nutrition-less food, sedentary office jobs and the high expectations of material comfort. These ‘conveniences’ often come at the expense of our health, our happiness and even our sanity.
If you are looking for increased fitness, better diet or peace of mind then now may be the best time to start afresh. New Zealand is full of places to walk, run, play sports or swim. There are plenty of clubs and teams looking for members who are happy to inspire and encourage those wishing to improve their health. If there is no walking club in your area, then it is easy to start your own regular group. There are still plenty of natural reserves such as the Waitakere ranges near Auckland. These places contain beautiful scenery and fresh air, where one can go to experience the rejuvenating and restorative power of nature.
Despite the fast food explosion of recent decades, many people are now coming to realise that a natural diet of fruit, vegetables and grains is far better than the chemically concocted food-like items which line most supermarket shelves. Luckily, New Zealand is a fertile agricultural nation with numerous growers’ markets offering cheap produce even in the cities. There are now plenty of vegetarian cafes and restaurants, especially in Auckland, and a burgeoning interest in organic and living foods. Many plant-based natural supplements of high nutritional potency have recently arrived on the Western market. These are often called ‘superfoods’ because they contain much higher levels of vitamins and minerals than most other foods. Goji berries, for example, have 500 times more vitamin C per ounce than oranges. Raw cacao (from which chocolate is derived) is one of the best known sources of magnesium, a crucial mineral often lacking in the Western diet.
An often neglected factor of healthy living is the relationship between inner peace and health. Stress is one of the main factors increasing the risks of heart disease and early death. Although stress is an unavoidable fact of life, it is the way we deal with it that is important. There are many techniques to minimise stress and its harmful effects. Meditation, the practice of stilling the mind during regular daily sessions, has been shown in numerous studies to be enormously helpful not only for managing stress but gaining a deeper perspective on life and greater satisfaction. How meditation works is not fully understood, but many scientists believe that it gives some relaxing ‘time out’ for the busy mind and helps develop greater capacity for dealing with everyday life. Meditation has been used for thousands of years as a component of religious and spiritual practice.
Free meditation classes, including those offered by the Sri Chinmoy Centre, help to address some of these problems and inspire Aucklanders to lead healthier, more fulfilling lives. In addition to free meditation classes the Centre holds concerts of relaxing music, fun runs and inspiring talks.
One of the inspiring speakers during the Centre’s recent ‘Festival of Meditation’ was Dharbhasana Lynn, the only New Zealander to run the world’s longest footrace (3100 miles). Dharbhasana completed the ultra-race on a diet almost entirely composed of raw fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds. A student of Sri Chinmoy, he believes that human beings are capable of far more than they believe, and hopes to inspire others with his example.
A version of this article appeared in ‘Indianz Outlook’, June 2011