“Acceptance is the basis of all health and wellbeing”
Jonny Wilkinson tells us about his ongoing journey to improve his physical and mental health, and why the gut may be the route to serious improvements.
Jonny Wilkinson is of course a rugby legend, one of the greatest of all time, and he is also one of its most intriguing characters. Much of that mystery surrounding him as a player has since been revealed to be struggles with his mental health – indeed, Jonny has done incredible work since leaving the game in breaking down taboos around this area. And that work is very much continuing, with his new Boots podcast ‘Taboo Talk’, which looks at the “incredible intelligence of the body” and the inter-relationship between mental and physical health. It has a particular emphasis on gut health, due to Jonny’s interest in this area, which has also borne fruit in the form of his pioneering drinks label No1 Living. We spoke to Jonny about this fascinating area, and the changing relationship he’s had with his health – no doubt about it, his outlook on life is one we can all be inspired by.
When did you first become aware of mental health as an issue for you? What kind of care was there for mental health in the game at the time?
I had been aware of the intense fear in my life from a very young age and was also aware of it as an issue at that time but it wasn’t until I reached my early twenties that I began to understand it as belonging to my own mind and not out there around me in the world. At the time mental health care was something that happened outside of the game if you were willing to explore it. Within the game there wasn’t anywhere near the level awareness or understanding that there is now and there is so much still to uncover.
What kind of methods did you use to address your mental health?
As I discuss on the Boots Taboo Talk podcast, I tried many things but the vast majority of them actually ended up reinforcing the issue and adding to the resistance. The most powerful process for releasing the stress is acceptance or meditation or letting go because it is not self-serving and doesn’t feed old habits. In my eyes, acceptance is the basis of all health and wellbeing.
At what stage did you find your gut health played a role?
My wife was training to become a nutritionist and I was exploring my mental health and my potential and we crossed paths on fermented live foods and the role of gut bacteria. When I realised the possible scale of their impact upon connecting and balancing the body and its systems I knew that this was a very important area of investigation for me.
How did you start to improve your gut health and what effects did it have?
We started brewing kombucha at home, making live kefir yogurt and baking our own sourdough bread. I started to look much more intensely at what how and when I was eating and above all I dived even deeper into removing stress from daily life experience and replacing it with peaceful flow
What interplay is there between physical and mental health? And how does better gut health affect the way they work together?
Physical and mental health, for me, are in fact just one and the same thing. It is all energy and when this energy is in a coherent and connected state it flows effortlessly. In a state of survival such as stress, be it fear, anger, frustration etc, the brain and the gut brain disconnect and work ineffectively and create disorder. The gut brain has a huge role to play in communicating with the brain and maintaining this balance but I understand that I must be part of supporting that process with what I eat, how I eat and also how I use my mind to influence my own inner environment.
At what stage did the idea for your own business come into play? And how did you get started?
From 2011/2012 I started looking for a far more natural and harmonious product for performance and potential. I had seen lots of things in rugby changing rooms and on shop shelves and was becoming wary of how processed it all was. I wanted to bring something to a mass market that, first and foremost, looked after health and allowed for the aspirations and ambitions of individuals. I was extremely fit at the time but not at all healthy and my body was suffering. After several efforts that didn’t quite work out I uncovered kombucha and I knew it was what I had been searching for.
Can you tell us about the No.1 Living products, and what they do?
All of our drinks contain live cultures – so they’re literally full of life. There have been some really exciting findings linking bacteria in the gut, and the improvement of digestive health and overall wellbeing. What’s more, our kombucha is authentically brewed from Sencha green tea, which is rich in antioxidants. Our No1 Living drinks are stocked in Boots to ensure they are accessible for consumers.
How can people start to take better care of their gut health in general?
As I see it, it all begins with stress. Stress is the separation of one energy into two and then the friction caused by these two forces working against each other. In any situation there is the opportunity to accept and respond or resist and react. Love and compassion vs fear and control. Included in this journey is conscious engagement of the pillars of physical health: breathing, moving, diet and restfulness. Eating live foods, eating natural foods, vegetables and fruits as close to their source as possible and drinking lots of water is a great place to begin.
What are the main differences between how you take care of yourself now, and how you took care of yourself in your playing days?
I have chosen to look at potential very differently. I am completed interested in health and allow fitness to unfold from it. I used to try to be very fit and hope health would spring from my fatigue! I see the body as the most incredible piece of intelligence there is as opposed to a machine that is supposed to do what I tell it. I respect and revere it completely differently and finally I have a completely different and far more compassionate outlook upon the environment and the wildlife around me as well as my fellow human beings.
What else do you do to maintain good mental health?
I follow my highest passion in every moment.
Finally, do you have any vices? What’s a cheat day for you?
There is no right and wrong when it comes to being and therefore there is no “cheating.” For me there is simply feeling connected and feeling disconnected from my potential.
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