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The Suicides of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade – Reach Out

Recently, the American public was left reeling from the tragic deaths of two American cultural icons Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. Both of them reportedly committed suicide. Sadly, this shocking and preventable death is something that many people can relate to – most of us know someone who has been touched by suicide.

Anthony Bourdain was a TV chef and self-proclaimed ‘culinary bad boy’ who was in the middle of filming a follow-up to his award-winning culinary travel guide, Parts Unknown. He touched the lives of many with his no-holds-barred approach to food journalism. The former President, Barack Obama, who shared a meal with him in Vietnam on camera, tweeted:

“‘Low plastic stool, cheap but delicious noodles, cold Hanoi beer.’ This is how I’ll remember Tony. He taught us about food – but more importantly, about its ability to bring us together. To make us a little less afraid of the unknown. We’ll miss him.”

Kate Spade was a fashion journalist turned designer who, together with her husband, came up with an extraordinarily successful brand. Starting out with a pared-back handbag in the mid-90s, the brand became a huge success and expanded to clothes, accessories, and homewares.

Outward Appearances Can be Deceiving

On the face of it, both Bourdain and Spade were ultra-successful, confident, creative people with all the trappings of wealth and glamour. In reality, they were suffering an intense private battle with depression and mental ill-health. Kate’s husband Andy Spade told the news channel, CNN:

Photo by Tiago Bandeira on Unsplash

“Kate suffered from depression and anxiety for many years. She was actively seeking help and working closely with her doctors to treat her disease, one that takes far too many lives…”

Death by suicide is on the increase – in America, the rate went up by 25% since 1999. In the UK, the latest figures released by the Samaritans show that in England and the UK, female suicide rates, in particular, are at their highest in a decade. However, men remain three times more likely to take their own lives than women.

Success, fame and wealth are no barrier to unhappiness.

Suicide is Preventable

“Suicide is complex. It usually occurs gradually, progressing from suicidal thoughts, to planning, to attempting suicide and finally dying by suicide.” So says the International Association for Suicide Prevention.

This sequence of events is usually accompanied by physical symptoms and an intense loneliness and isolation as the sufferer struggles to carry on with their normal life. For those suffering from mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, there is usually a long battle before succumbing to the final solution.

As Rob Delaney, actor and comedian, put it: “suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”

Those that are in the grip of the disease find it hard to believe that things will get better. The best-selling author and self-confessed sufferer of depression, Matt Haig, writes in his book, ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ that if he had some advice for his former self it would be that:

“Nothing lasts forever. This pain won’t last. The pain tells you it will last. Pain lies. Ignore it.”

The Yoga World

The yoga world is no different to the wider world. Despite the mental health benefits that come from a committed yoga practice, there are no guarantees. In July last year, Michael Stone, a Buddhist and renowned yoga teacher, died of a drug overdose. His family issued a statement saying that he “feared the stigma of his diagnosis … [but] he was on the cusp of revealing publicly how shaped he was by bipolar disorder and how he was doing.”

Photo (c) Richard Freeman

In fact, there may even be more stigma surrounding mental health in yogic circles than in other walks of life. It can be seen as a failure to fully reap the benefits of yoga. In reality, mental health issues are diseases just like any others. There are no magical cures, but there are ways to manage those diseases, and those ways will be different for each individual.

For those yoga teachers that suffer from the pain of mental health, there is a silver lining that comes with it – compassion. As B.K.S. Iyengar says:

“When you have known pain, you will be compassionate.”

Reach Out

The fact is that talking saves lives.  You don’t know what people are going through in their lives. If you suspect that someone you know is contemplating suicide, always take it seriously.  The Samaritans suggest that you ‘offer support and encourage them to talk about how they’re feeling.’

This simple act of reaching out to someone in need might just save their life. Why not scroll through your contacts today and think about the people in your life?

For more about the tragic deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, read here.

If you or anyone you know are struggling to cope, call the Samaritans (UK) any time on 116 123.

Poppy Pickles
Pregnancy Yoga Guide

Give Dad Yoga this Father’s Day – 5 Tips

Get Dad into Yoga this Father’s Day – 5 Tips

I’m guessing that this Father’s Day, as usual, you’re stuck on a present. He’s either the man who has everything or the man who doesn’t want anything.  So, instead of the usual offering of craft beer, slippers or a book he’ll never read, why not give your Dad a present that will be good for both his body and mind? Yoga.

The problem with this brilliant present is that he doesn’t know he wants it – yet!  So, we’ve come up with five ways to convince your Dad that this is actually the best Father’s Day present he’ll ever get.

  1. Bribe him

If the thought of going to a yoga class gives your Dad the heebie-jeebies, then why not offer to show him a few simple yoga moves in the safety of his own home, with the promise of an Indian takeaway, or a nice dinner together afterwards?

When putting together a short sequence, start with the basics, adding in plenty of child’s poses. Focus on gentle lengthening of the hamstrings, stretching of the shoulders and, if there’s time, some hip-openers. Most important of all, give him a nice long savasana, with support under his knees if necessary. That should ensure he wants to give it another go.

By combining a bit of yoga and dinner, he gets to spend time with you and does a bit of yoga before being treated to a meal in or out (whatever he’s got the energy for after his attempts at yoga).

  1. Threaten him

Somehow, most fathers seem to exist in this make-believe land where they think they’re much fitter than they actually are, despite the fact that they haven’t run further than 10 metres in 10 years.

Photo by abi ismail on Unsplash

The sad truth is, as men age, they start to lose muscle and gain fat – even without the helping hand of alcohol and over-eating. Then their testosterone levels start to drop off, causing loss of bone density, stiffening muscles and ligaments that can make older men more injury-prone.

So, next time your Dad makes an ‘oof’ noise when he gets up from the sofa, or starts puffing going up the stairs, take the opportunity to mention that he’s only going to get worse – unless he does something about it – like take up yoga.  And then hand him a voucher for a few local yoga lessons and see if that does the trick.

  1. Educate him

This is a tough one, as most fathers like to think they know everything about anything. However, there is a pre-conceived notion about yoga that it is for women. But really, yoga is best-suited for those that need it most, and I can’t think of anyone who needs it more than middle-aged and elderly men.

So, in order to reassure him that yoga is for men too, tell him about Broga (a yoga class geared for him), or send him a youtube video of Adam Husler, yoga teacher and all-round nice guy. Or fill him in on the renowned hard man and DJ Goldie, now in his mid-50s, who credits his yoga practice with saving his life and inspired him to set up the clothing brand ‘yogangster’.

Even better, buy him a book on yoga for his present, such as Cool Yoga Tricks by Miriam Austin, or her other book, ‘Yoga for Wimps‘, which doesn’t show super-bendy yogis, but has photographs of real people doing adapted poses that will work for even the stiffest Dads.

  1. Accompany him

The thought of going to a regular yoga class can be frankly terrifying for many men – especially if they’re a bit older and stuck in their ways. But if you think he might be up for a yoga class, find a beginner’s class that’s near to where he lives, with a gentle teacher and a mixed bunch of students, and then book the class for both of you as a Father’s Day present.

Guide him to a mat in the middle of the room, so he doesn’t feel exposed at the front of the class, or can’t see what’s happening from the back. Let him know that he doesn’t need to have a complete yoga outfit, but just a T-shirt and shorts will be fine. Part of your yoga present could be a practical yoga mat, so at least he feels he’s not sharing germs with the last 100 students to use the mats provided.

With you, by his side, he’ll hopefully have the confidence to get onto the mat and give it a go.

  1. Enlighten him

This is the long game, but make sure your Dad knows how important yoga is to you. Tell him about how it’s helped you, both physically and mentally. After a while, ask him if he’d ever consider having a go at it himself.

Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash

If he isn’t swayed by your opinion, then hit him with the facts. Yoga is known to be good for: reducing depression, controlling hypertension, keeping your heart healthy, helping to control diabetes, relieving back pain, improving digestion, relieving osteoarthritis and so on. If he suffers from any (hopefully not all) of the above, then that might just give him a reason to give it a go.

He might think that it’s too late for him to start doing yoga now, and that it’s something for young people, but there’s no right age to start on the yoga path. Take Queen Elisabeth of Belgium, who at the ripe-old-age of 86 met B.K.S. Iyengar and asked him to get her up into a headstand, which he duly did.  If an old Queen can do it, then there’s no reason why your Dad can’t!

Whether any of these tactics work, it’s worth a shot, because yoga will give your Dad greater flexibility into old age, as well as a sense of peace and wellbeing, and there’s no amount of socks or Old Spice that can promise that.

Poppy Pickles
One Weekend Workshop to up your skills

London’s top 10 FREE Yoga Classes

Without trying to jinx it, I think it’s pretty safe to say that summer has hit the capital. And with the sun, has come a host of completely FREE yoga lessons.

Tucked away in various shops, community centres and parks throughout the city, are wonderful places offering completely FREE yoga classes to those in the know. We’ve put together TEN of the best free yoga classes in the city so – just because you’re strapped for cash – you don’t have to be deprived of your weekly, or even daily yoga fix.

Our Pick of Free Yoga Classes

1. Yogaworks

Set in leafy Wandsworth in South London is the tranquil yoga studio, Yogaworks.  A stone’s throw from bustling Clapham Junction Station, it’s a welcoming, friendly place to relax and restore yourself with the range of yoga classes they have on offer. Choose from invigorating Vinyasa flow, soothing Yin Yoga, caring Pre-natal yoga, relaxing Yoga Nidra and non-scary beginner’s yoga.

Their goal is to provide yoga classes from all levels from the absolute beginner to the more advanced yogi. All yoga equipment is provided – apart from towels, which you can hire for a £1 from reception.

And even better, they are currently offering your first class for FREE. To book your free class, sign up here.

2. Adidas Studio – 152 Brick Lane

The light and airy Adidas Studio in the heart of trendy Spitalfields in East London offers a whole range of completely FREE fitness classes, including yoga. I’m afraid, blokes, that this one is just for women though. The slight downside in this era of Data privacy is that in order to sign up for the free classes you have to register through your facecbook profile, but you may as well get some good use out of facebook to get a free yoga class!

There’s also a cafe onsite called ReFuel, which serves gluten-free and vegan goodies to reward yourself with after your free session. To find out how to sign up, register here.

 3. ‘OurParks’

Now is the time of year that London parks come into their own. The capital is one of the greenest in the world, and most residents have a park just round the corner. OurParks not only organises activities in London’s many green areas, but also in community spaces. And even better, the classes are completely FREE. OurParks was created to make it easy and free for you to get fit, which sounds like an excellent idea to us. Their site is easy to use, colour-coded to give you an idea of how intense the classes are, and gives an up to date list of all the classes coming up.

If you’re feeling hardcore, and in need of fresh air, you can pick Outdoor Yoga in London Fields, or opt for Flow Yoga at Leyton Sixth Form College, to name just a couple of choices. You need to register on the site first, and then book a place – for more info you can watch a handy booking guide here.

And to see a list of classes and get going, book here.

4. LightCentre Moorgate

The Light Centre in Moorgate is a health and wellbeing centre offering over sixty different classes weekly, from mindfulness to Pilates-Reformer classes as well as a variety of different health therapies. A haven of relaxation in the midst of the city, one of the things we love most about this centre is that you can try it out totally free of charge.

With ‘Breakfast Club’ classes to suit the early-riser, 75-minute Vinyasa Flow classes and weekly beginners’ classes, all levels and all schedules are welcome. We love that you can grab a rejuvenating snack after your class here too – a green juice for the road or a fruit pot to devour (smugly) at your desk. Sign up for your free class here.

See Also: The 12 Best Snacks to Have on Hand in 2016

5. Sweaty Betty

Putting a new meaning to the phrase, ‘working out in Sweaty Betty’, the free yoga classes here can be booked in advance and taught by certified experts. The only catch is that you have to sign up to become a member but don’t we all have five minutes to spare for 60-minutes of free fitness?

We suggest you’re quick though as the word has gotten out about the Sweaty little secret and classes tend to get booked up quite quickly. Find out whether your nearest store could become your newest workout venue here.

6. Lululemon

You may have spent copious amounts of time during your yoga-practicing-years browsing the shelves and rails of this popular sports clothing store but have you ever thought about pushing aside the ‘End of Season Sale’ rack and stretching out on the floor? Well why not try it — with a weekly, completely complimentary, in-store yoga class!

Guided by expert local teachers, all over London, you’ll be able to unfurl your mat in the midst of your chosen store and spend 60-minutes stretching and relaxing. LuluLemon put great emphasis on creating a community outside of a simple shopping experience and aside from free yoga classes you can also get involved with festivals and retreats. Never believed you’d be able to leave a LuluLemon store having not spent a penny? Well believe it! Sign up here.

7. Essence of Good Health

Image Courtesy The Cosmpolitan via Flickr.

With a real belief that no one should be exempt from the benefits of yoga, Essence of Good Health Yoga has been providing free hatha yoga classes for over 15 years. A real mixture of levels attend these two-hour classes and a sense of community and care is present throughout.

A gentle warm up and an hour of asanas is followed by half an hour of pranayama and guided relaxation to ensure that you leave feeling as good as possible. A bootcamp for the body and mind (in the gentlest sense) can be expected, along with a warm welcome and loads of attention — there is usually more than one teacher to make sure that everyone gets the help and guidance they need.

As the classes are run free of charge, donations are welcome and most who attend give around £2 to help fund this worthwhile project. They are held once a week on a Monday in Croydon from 7-9pm at: The Archbishop Lanfranc School Mitcham Road Croydon Surrey CR9 3AS.

8. Stress Project Yoga Holloway

Not exactly free either, but practically free, as classes at the Holloway Community Centre cost only £2 per lesson, which we think you’ll agree is amazing value.

Holloway Neighbourhood Group is a local charity working in the London Borough of Islington. Their aim is to offer local people the chance to live fulfilled lives as part of the community. In 1995 they established the Stress Project  – providing therapeutic and social support to people living with mental health probems and stress related illness. This includes their low-cost yoga classes, held every Wednesday, 12.30 to 1.30pm at the Old Fire Station Community Centre.

84 Mayton Street, N7 6QT,  020 7607 9794

9. Iyengar Yoga Institute

Set in the tranquil setting of the Iyengar Yoga Institute in Maida Vale, are FREE taster classes on offer to those who’d like to try Iyengar yoga. Held throughout the year, their aim is to give new students a chance to try out yoga in a friendly setting with other people at the same level. No previous experience is necessary. It’s also open to those students who are more familiar with other yoga methods.

All equipment is provided, and shoes are left in the racks by the entrance. Sign up here to book the next free class.

10. East London Community Well Being

Run by the charity St. Margaret’s House, Yoganest is a project promoting wellbeing and engaging with the local community in Bethnal Green through the provision of low-cost and free yoga classes.  While you’re there you could also take advantage of all the other wonderful things going on, such as a rolling calendar of cultural events and an on-site vegan cafe. This unique charity provides spaces for residents to eat, shop, learn, create, and enjoy a diverse cultural program.

One of the varied programme of yoga lessons on offer at St Margaret’s House is a completely FREE Friday evening flow class. Suitable for all levels, this class combines breath and movement, strengthening and stretching both body and mind. Find more details here.

Poppy Pickles

Mental Health Awareness Week = How Yoga Can Reduce Stress

“If you do have the courage to speak about it, you really can make things better.”

So says Prince Harry, speaking as part of a 1-minute radio message transmitted across all UK radio stations on Tuesday this week, to mark Mental Health Awareness Week (14 to 20 May 2018).

Image Credit: Gabriel Matula via Unsplash.

Imminent groom-to-be, Prince Harry, along with his brother Prince William and several stars, including Dame Judi Dench and Lady Gaga, joined forces and voices in the radio message, which encourages everyone who’s struggled with their mental health to come forward and share their story.

The royal brothers have had a long-held commitment to the cause of mental health, especially in children and young people, and it’s a problem that shows no signs of going away. According to statistics published by the Mental Health Foundation this year, only 7% of young adults reported never feeling overwhelmed or unable to cope in the past year, compared to 30% of older people.

So, what’s happening with our young people, and what can we do about it?  One of the main contributors to poor mental health is stress. Stress is such an issue, it’s the focus of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week.

The Different Causes of Stress

We’ve all experienced stress. Life throws us curveballs and then the balls we were juggling crash down around our ears. In the short term, bursts of stress can help us to be more productive as we act faster and with urgency. But when the stress levels we’re dealing with don’t subside or become overwhelming, this can lead to ongoing mental and physical ill-health.

There are all sorts of causes of stress, including illness or injury, bereavement, divorce, exam-related stress, redundancy, moving house and…writing an article about stress when your daughter is off school with tonsillitis, in other words, parental stress.

There is also the stress that comes with your job, and as part of Mental Health Awareness Week, the mental health charity Mind is focusing on work-related stress.  They are ‘helping employees and employers create a mentally healthy workplace where everyone feels valued and supported.’ Not to mention the stress that many freelancers face when work suddenly dries up  and then arrives all at once.

What Stress Does to Us

Image Credit: Ben White via Unsplash.

As any yogi will tell you, the mind and the body are intrinsically linked. When the mind is under stress it has an immediate physical impact on the body. The body releases the hormones cortisol and adrenaline, which is the automatic response to a threat.

These hormones prompt the ‘fight or flight’ response, which works brilliantly when you come face to face with a snarling tiger, but when the snarling tiger is your boss this repeated hormonal flood can start to affect your mental health, as well as make you feel physically unwell. Physical symptoms can include, shallow breathing, muscle tension, blurred eyesight, fatigue, headaches, chest pains, nausea and high blood pressure.

It also affects our thought and behavioral patterns, such as being unable to concentrate and finding it hard to make decisions, and gradually our body forgets how to switch the stress mode off.

What Helps?

The first port of call is to remove whatever is causing the stress. For example, if you’re in a particularly stressful job, perhaps there’s a way of going part-time or even changing jobs. But this isn’t always possible and so we need to manage the feelings of stress. As Prince Harry said, talking about it always helps. Just by acknowledging how you feel to someone sympathetic, the stress can be alleviated.

There is eating healthier, finding ways to relax, getting outdoors and so on. But there is also yoga. Research published by the Stress Research Centre at Harvard Medical School found that by “reducing perceived stress and anxiety, yoga appears to modulate stress response systems. This, in turn, decreases physiological arousal — for example, reducing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and easing respiration.” Mental health charity, Mind, suggests finding relaxation techniques that work for you, ‘such as a weekly yoga class, or setting aside time for breathing exercises at home’.

But according to B.K.S. Iyengar in his book Yoga, The Path to Holistic Health, ‘Mere relaxation is not sufficient in itself to counter the negative effects of stress.’

How Does Yoga Help?

Image Credit: Stephen Sandian via Unsplash.

Most of us, when feeling stressed out, reach for an immediate, short-term fix, such as food or alcohol. This is illustrated by the Mental Health Foundation’s latest findings on stress in which ‘46% of the people surveyed reported that they ate too much or ate unhealthily due to stress. On top of that, 29% reported that they started drinking or increased their drinking and 16% reported that they started smoking or increased their smoking.’

Yoga provides an alternative to these counterproductive stress-relievers, by giving you the tools to face stress with a calm and steady mind. Through regular practice of the asanas, the five senses are drawn inwards, and over time, allow the mind to become still. This has the dual benefit of reducing negative stress while building up the strength and resilience of both body and mind.

But even in the short term, yoga can immediately help to counter the effects of stress. In one lesson of yoga, the body is exposed to exercise through the vigorous active practice of yoga, which releases mood-boosting endorphins. At the end of the lesson, the mind and body rest in Savasana (Corpse Pose), a resting state which accesses the parasympathetic nervous system – the body’s inbuilt counter-stress response system. In Vinyasa-style yoga classes, the actions of the poses are synchronised with the breath, connecting the mind intrinsically to the body and reducing stress levels. Not to mention Yoga Nidra, pranayama and restorative yin yoga sessions, which all lead to increased feelings of calm.


Perhaps the clue to keeping our heads in our increasingly stressful world is in the title of this week – awareness. When we become truly aware of our surroundings without thought of what’s past (attachment) and what’s to come (fear), then there can be no stress. But it can take a lifetime to truly find that moment.

Poppy Pickles
Find your Foundation

My Yoga is Like My Mum

Although Mothers Day in the UK has been and gone, the American celebration, instigated by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson in May 1914, falls on the 13th. And, being a mother myself, I personally feel that there can’t be enough Mothers Days in the world. In fact, perhaps we should instigate a monthly Mothers Day?

Image Credit: Alisa Anton via Unsplash.

With this in mind, I started to think about how mothers (my own, and in general) are like yoga practice. Here is a list of what’s similar about them, apart from the obvious similarity of them both being AWESOME.

My morning yoga is stiff, like my Mum

My actual mother is actually pretty limber, but this is about how our bodies are changeable, from day to day, week to week, month to month. And (especially if you’re a woman) from minute to minute. First thing in the morning, when I try to squeeze in an early practice, my body is inflexible and slow to respond. There’s no point rushing or forcing the body into anything; just allow the body time to slowly wake up, open up and get going. Just like our mothers.

My yoga isn’t perfect, like my Mum

My Mum isn’t perfect. She’d admit that herself, but she’s the perfect Mum to me.  In the same way, my yoga practice isn’t perfect. There are times when it falls short in many ways, through laziness, distractions, illness and all the 9 obstacles to yoga that Patanjali specified, as well as a few more that I seem to have made up. But whatever yoga I manage to fit into the week, even if it’s just my weekly lesson, or breathing a little deeper while stuck in traffic, that’s still my best yoga.

My yoga is embarrassing, like my Mum

Mothers are programmed to be embarrassing – it’s part of the cycle of revenge for all those sleepless nights when we were babies.  There were times in my teenage years in particular when the simplest thing that came out of my mother’s mouth was mortifying. Sadly this is also sometimes like my yoga. Like when I went to a workshop and literally everyone else in the room was a teacher and they all sprung lithely up into handstand and I was left waggling and flailing trying to get up into the pose. Which eventually I did, due to the sheer terror of embarrassment.

My yoga gives me confidence, like my Mum

Image Credit: David Kuba via Unsplash.

Actually, it was my grandmother that used to do this, but, being a mother herself, it still counts. Whenever I was in a school show of any kind, be it a concert, play or school assembly, my grandmother would come up to me, and whisper conspiratorially, “Darling, you were THE BEST.” Whether this was true or not, her belief in me gave me an inner confidence in my abilities. Now that my dearest grandmother is no longer with us, it is my yoga that whispers to me. It’s not exactly saying that I’m the best, but it does say, ‘If you can work at your yoga poses, and achieve them, you can do anything.’

My yoga is there for me, like my Mum

When we’re low, or tired, grumpy or achy, the person we really want is our Mum. I know that if I’m ill, there’s no one like my Mum to make me feel looked after, by making me soup, or just saying the right thing. In the same way, I know that yoga is there for me, in good times and bad. Period pains? There’s a sequence to soothe my cramping womb. Anxious? I can set myself up in supported inversions and slowly the fears subside. And when I’m joyful, because the sun is finally shining, I can offer up my thanks to the universe with a sun salutation or ten.

My yoga gets wiser as it gets older, like my Mum

Image Credit: Fatih Altasov via Unsplash.

When we begin our yoga journey, we are brimming with enthusiasm for our new-found passion. We throw ourselves into lessons and practice with the feeling that we are winning a race. And when I say ‘we’, I mean ‘me’. However, over time, – especially for those of us that go through the crucible of yoga teacher training – this enthusiasm starts to mellow into an appreciation of the depth of the discipline to which we have committed ourselves. The practice we do at home slows and becomes more meditative, and more about connecting with the body in its entirety. Just like our Mums, who with the advantage of age, see clearly how life isn’t a race, but a series of present moments.

My yoga is part of me, like my Mum

My mother is part of who I am, part of the fabric of my being. She gave birth to me, raised me and, for better and for worse, molded me into the woman I am today. Yoga is also part of who I am. It has worked its way into the centre of my life. It wasn’t always like that. But, over time, the first two strands of yoga, yama and niyama, have begun to embed themselves into my consciousness. The discipline of practice stands as a steady core to the busy ups and downs of daily life. Like my mother, it is now so much a part of me that it’s hard to see where yoga ends and I begin.

Poppy Pickles

Zen Monkey, a sub-division of YogaLondon, is an online conduit for yoga students and teachers to share ideas and develop a catalogue of content that is informative, creative and fun. We are a community founded from the collection of writers and yogis we've mentored, worked with and been inspired by. Together, we are building a tribe that shares the tools, the inspiration and the motivation to lead a healthy, mindful and sustainable life.