I speak to Jon Nicholson about his gym and methods which he says give a more well rounded type of body fitness, which has better outcomes for your life. Jon believes that awareness of movement is a powerful thing to tune into.
He suggests that we eat only natural whole foods and try to eat what our ancestors ate. If your ancestors were from a certain region of the world, find out what they used to eat and eat similar things as your stomach will be more attuned to those types of foods.
We spoke about why some of us give up on gym and how we can break bad habits. His 3 tips from Bruce Lee were pretty cool where he said that you need 3 things from your physical training, something practical, health benefits and personal and spiritual development.
When thinking about gym, you need to think whole body fitness such as mobility, flexibility and strength.
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Full transcription of podcast:
Interviewer: This is Live Shots podcast. Today we’ve got John Nicholson with us. John is from the Original Gym. And when I looked at your About page John, I saw a whole lot of things going on there, Jujitsu fighting, MMA and you’ve done psychology at school or at university. But welcome to the live show.
[00:00:32] Interviewee: Cool. Glad to be here. It’s going to be a lot of fun.
Interviewer: Yeah. John, off camera, we’ve been talking about these exciting things about the body and the mind and being in sync. And I think it’s some really exciting stuff that our listeners are going to be just like “What? I can’t believe it. That’s awesome”. And so let’s just dive in. So, tell us about yourself and also about the Original Gym. Where did the name come from? How did you start it? Just give us a bit of background about John.
[00:01:03] Interviewee: That’s kind of two questions. The first one is a fairly kind of longish history, lots of things along the way. Where I would start things is, I started some martial arts quite a long time ago. It’s over a decade ago now. And I tried a few different martial arts, ended up doing some MMA, which is really good, mixed martial arts. And when I was learning that, it was a big problem for me. I was weak. I was uncoordinated, couldn’t move well. And I just felt like I wasn’t really making progress, I was really struggling. So I started looking into things, how can I move better?
Interviewer: And this was in the early 2000’s, or when was this?
[00:01:55] Interviewee: I’m going to say this is early 2000’s, yeah, very early 2000’s. So I started looking at things or how grapplers should move better, this kind of stuff. There was one kind of accident, really big accident. I heard someone say, “Oh, you know, you need a good awareness of your movement or control of your movement” or something like this. And that was the early days of the Internet, so I went to Google and I was just searching for all these things and I came across this awareness through movement and I completely got it wrong, actually. What I was looking for was awareness of movement. So I wanted to develop the ability to learn how to move my body, and it turned out to be something a lot bigger. But that got me into things like kettlebells and very early on, like the first CrossFit and people doing pistols and all this kind of stuff of body weight conditioning. So that’s what I was looking at then. I bounced around with some stuff. I had a lot of injuries. So I had a surgery on my shoulder, all these kinds of things.
Interviewer: Where did the injury come from?
[00:03:03] Interviewee: From grappling, from martial arts. You get thrown around, Jiu jitsu for example, literally, you are trying to break the body. You take a joint and try to snap it the wrong way. It’s a lot of fun, you are playing around.
Interviewer: So someone got you?
[00:03:17] Interviewee: Things go wrong, yeah. They do. That’s part of it. It’s high risk, high reward. And things went wrong a few times. I think, looking back, I know that I had a predisposition, my posture was terrible. So it was waiting to happen sooner or later. Because I was moving really badly. And I had done other sports before, like riding a bike. So BMXing was actually what I was doing before that. And it’s great, it’s a lot of fun. And I was moving, but it is a very limited thing. You’re holding these handlebars all the time. And your shoulders are really forward, your upper back’s really rounded. It’s not a very well rounded wide moving.
Interviewer: So even doing the grappling, your body wasn’t able to cope, you felt like you couldn’t move properly?
[00:04:07] Interviewee: Yeah, just even learning movements. It’s just everything, some people are natural athletes, we call them natural athletes. There’s just that kid that can pick up any sport and play it well and we think they’re natural athletes. And to me, I didn’t like the idea that I was an unnatural athlete or that kind of a thing. I was thinking “You’ve got to figure this out. You’ll be able to learn to do this, to become a natural athlete”. And it’s sort of a funny thing. Now, I’m going to do things and people are like, “Yeah, but you’re a natural athlete”. I’ve literally heard people say that, I just don’t think it’s true.
Interviewer: So your childhood maybe, you weren’t doing sports? Or were you?
[00:04:47] Interviewee: No, not particularly. When I was in my teens, I took up BMX. But like I said, it’s not a very well-rounded thing, in terms of the movement. It’s a lot of fun and all this kind of stuff, it’s great. But you do get injured doing that as well, obviously. But the big thing is, it’s very limited. You are holding a handlebar and you got your feet on some pedals. It’s not that much you’re moving your body. And then you’ve got something like grappling.
Interviewer: It’s a next level movement.
[00:05:19] Interviewee: Yeah, and you’re really moving your body all over. You are having it cranked on and twisted and all this kind of stuff. I’m not a particularly big guy. And I was a beginner, thrown in with the big sharks a little bit. And it wasn’t up to scratch. So I was like: “I have to fix this”. So I quickly picked up the physical conditioning, it was something I really needed to do.
Interviewer: So we’re going to get onto the [00:05:44] thing about how you also try to heal your body with that. Before we get onto that though, tell me about this name, Original Gym.
[00:05:54] Interviewee: Ah, okay. So the Original Gym. Okay. From there, we fast forward a little bit, there’s some other things. I was looking at physical conditioning, the MMA turned into Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I was more and more interested in the mind and body, all this kind of stuff, doing what I’m doing, my training. I decided that I just needed a break. It changed my life essentially, a break from a career in this kind of stuff.
Interviewer: So you were fighting almost like a professional? You were an amateur fighter?
Interviewee: Amateur, yeah.
Interviewer: But it was your full-time thing? Semi-professional?
[00:06:30] Interviewee: No, I had a career, I had a day job. A conventional, 9 to 5 job. And I was more and more interested in this stuff and I realized “I’m spending 40 hours a week doing something that I just don’t care about. That is a waste of time”. Of course you have money and with money you can do things. But…
Interviewer: It was not really what you were passionate about.
[00:06:50] Interviewee: Yeah. It was just a waste of time, really. And there were some things, like the things that had to do with funding and education in the UK, were changing. So I was like “While it’s financial a little bit more viable, I’ll go and do a degree. Blank slate, clear the thing”.
Interviewer: So you weren’t fresh out of school?
[00:07:13] Interviewee: Yeah, I had a corporate career, for nearly a decade. So I decided to go back to uni, do a degree in psychology, studying a really important subject. It wasn’t that I wanted to be a psychologist. I just wanted to understand.
Interviewer: Understand the mind?
[00:07:33] Interviewee: Yeah, exactly. And it was something that I wanted to do for myself. And I knew that I could apply it everywhere. So funding for that, I’m like “Well, I am spending a lot of time learning about this strength conditioning stuff. I’ll train as a personal trainer, so I qualified as a personal trainer so that I could earn some income while studying. So going from like full-time income to very, very part-time income. And I’m working in the university gym, which is great. Like it was a really great life. It was right next to the library, so I was studying and then going to the gym, either working or training. And just living that life training Jiu Jitsu at night and doing that for a few years.
Interviewer: Did you have a social life?
[00:08:17] Interviewee: Well, it’s a very social thing. Like these things are very social things, so yeah. But not really in the conventional sense. No, I didn’t do the whole uni kind of thing. I’ve missed that boat. So anyway, I was working in the gym at the university which is really good, big learning experience. I was going from sweeping the floor to delivering PT sessions, gym inductions. So it was right at the bottom, kind of rung of the ladder, but learned a lot. I just watched a lot about what goes on in gyms in those couple of years.
Interviewer: These were mostly students and they weren’t paying you as a person trainer. But did the university pay you?
[00:08:56] Interviewee: Yeah, the university paid me. But they delivered personal training as well, which was mainly lectures and stuff, using the gym as well. So it wasn’t just students. But I saw what was going on a lot there. And then anyway, I did my graduation and it was kind of a coincidence, when I graduated, an opportunity came up to rent a space, a room on the other side of town. And I thought about it. And I did some other work in a commercial gym as well. One of the big chain gyms, that was horrific. And one of the things I realized was, I want my own thing, my own space. So that I can really set the tone, set the environment and clear everything out. So the gym is very minimalist, it doesn’t look like a chain gym. There is a very minimum amount of equipment.
Interviewer: It’s stuff that you don’t normally see in a normal gym?
Interviewee: Stuff that you don’t normally see, yeah.
Interviewer: Like rings, like you’ve showed me.
[00:09:56] Interviewee: Yeah, rings, barbells, weightlifting equipment. A couple of minimized squat racks and bars, plates. The horses, gymnastics benches, really very minimal equipment. And it’s funny, because when I was studying for my psychology degree – it was a real pain in the ass, actually – the nearest psychology part of the library, the bookshelf, was right next to the sport science section. So I read as much sport science as psychology in the end. And these are all Russian books. And they had everything. I really saw how they were using this whole gymnastics stuff. Like guys doing back extensions on benches and all of this kind of stuff. And I just saw, with a bit of creativity, you don’t need all of this nonsense that’s in gyms. You don’t need it. And it’s just a wrong approach. So anyway, I got my own space, I start putting equipment in, a couple of people just popped their head through the door and were like “Oh man, it’s like the old-school gym”. There were some other influences as well. One thing was, there was a really old Paul Chek interview. He’s a famous fitness industry guy, really interesting guy. And I read this interview with him and it was really interesting. He was talking about the original bodybuilders and what they were doing in the 1920’s, maybe earlier than that. It was a spiritual pursuit. So they weren’t just building the body, they were building the mind and the soul and this whole physical culture thing. And that just stuck in my mind. And then it came out as “This is the Original Gym”. And it was just a bit funny, really. It was with comedy, with a sense of humour anyway. It’s something that can be as deep as you like it to be. But this whole Paul Chek thing was just very, very funny.
Interviewer: Before I forget, we were talking off camera and you mentioned that thing about Bruce Lee. And you mentioned the three things for…
[00:12:11] Interviewee: Ah, yeah, yeah. This is a big thing. There was another thing that really stuck in my mind, it was from a Bruce Lee thing. He was talking about martial arts and he said “Martial arts should have three major kind of areas of benefit”. And the first one is practical. So in martial arts, you should learn how to defend yourself. If you’re doing a martial art and you can’t defend yourself, you probably aren’t doing the martial art right. You are doing something else or something wrong. Second aspect is, it should be good for your health. Now, I’ve done a lot of martial arts, that can run into some problems. Injuries, that kind of stuff. But basically, it is really good for your health. And then the third dimension he talks about, is self-development. So you can train and you use this as a vehicle for self-development. And there is a book “Zen in the art of Archery”. It’s not a true Zen text, but it talks about a simple thing, which is archery, and how you can use this as an activity for self-development. And it mentions that you can use anything. You could be knitting and use that as a form of self-development or a spiritual pursuit. So for me, it’s “You want to do something for your health, you want to go to the gym”. Make it tick these three boxes. Again, if you are going to the gym, maybe you pump your muscles up a little bit. But if you can’t jump over a fence or get up from the floor, or sprint down the road…
Interviewer: Your back gets hurt from just tying your shoelaces.
[00:13:42] Interviewee: Yeah, exactly. That is a classic one. If you go to the gym and you have nothing to show for it, or no physical abilities to show for it, you can’t operate practically. You were doing the wrong thing.
Interviewer: So you are not ticking off that first box?
[00:13:56] Interviewee: Yeah, exactly. And if you look at somebody a little bit older, one of the first things they can learn is things like getting up and down from the floor. That sounds ridiculous, but how do you get up and down from the floor if you trip, if you fall? That is a really, really big thing for someone who is a little bit older. If you are a little bit younger, you need to be able to move, you need to be able to do things. Like someone has a heart attack, you need to run to the end of the street.
Interviewer: So there is no use being very muscular?
[00:14:27] Interviewee: It’s one dimensional and that is another thing. Same thing like, you might be able to run a marathon but if you can’t climb a tree or something, it’s not going to help you. It is very one dimensional, I would say. So you should develop practical abilities when you are training. And obviously, the second thing is your health. And health, I think, with the conventional notion of exercise… Again, I think it is a very big thing in the west, we are very number-oriented. So people have these recommendations, these ideas “I need to do 3x 20 minutes of cardiovascular exercise for my heart”, this kind of thing. And it’s really myopic. You’ve plucked out this one number and you’ve hammered it and you see people going running and I’m like “Yeah, but you’ve screwed up your knees and you’ve screwed up your back. And you can’t do a pull-up”.
Interviewer: So your health is not really generally well. It might be well in certain areas, but not generally?
[00:15:26] Interviewee: Yeah, you’ve taken one metric and you’ve improved that. But you missed everything else. Or you look at somebody who’s lifting a lot of weight and they can’t touch their toes or this kind of thing. They only have a singular focus and they don’t zoom out to look at the bigger picture. And the health problems, there are musculoskeletal health problems. So when people are doing certain forms of exercises and they come with the same injuries or a degradation over time. Cycling is great, it is a great way to get from A to B, but if you sit at a desk all day and you are hunched over, and you think “I am going to do something about this”. And you continue to sit like that – on the bike – for a couple of hours, you’re not really doing the right thing. Don’t get me wrong, riding a bike is great. But again, you need to zoom out and look at the bigger picture, for your musculoskeletal health and your metabolic health as well. You see people especially do tons of either high intensity, which is very popular or marathon running, that kind of stuff. And you combine that with chronic dieting, there are some health issues that can come with that down the road.
Interviewer: So they’re putting a big strain on the body all the time.
[00:16:49] Interviewee: Yeah, exactly, they are not balancing thing out very well there. It’s all about psychological health, that is another whole can of worms. But then Bruce Lee’s third model is the self-development thing. And again, that’s the same thing. Getting into the gym or not the gym. The gym is just one place. It’s used as a vehicle for self-development. And this is where I really decided to do what I am doing, for now anyway, was in my psychology degree. We were studying psychological therapies, there is a lot of lessons that you can learn essentially, that are very, very good for one’s psychological health. And I realized that most of these things you can learn through physical training. One of the big things is a growth mindset, as a Harvard psychologist, Carol Dweck, wrote a very book. It’s this idea that we have a theory about ourselves that we then enact or are limited by. She would talk about some kid, he goes to school and has math, for example. And the kid is good at math, he can do it. So he continues being good at math. And as he keeps progressing through school, keeps being really good at math and he doesn’t ever do his homework. And he builds up this self-image of “I’m good at math”. There is no known reason why, he’s just good at it. And then he hits a point all of a sudden, where it gets hard. And how do you react to this sudden change? All of a sudden it’s difficult. And what happens with some people, they build a story of “While I was given this ability of being good at math, I didn’t work for it, it just came out of the sky. And now I’ve used it up”. So it is like you were born with a fixed amount of mathematical ability and you were good and then you stopped. You hit the ceiling and now you’re done. And you never learn to study and improve. So you have this idea that you have a fixed quantity. And this is a self-story, this narrative. I hear it. It’s a little different thing, age is the same kind of thing. People build this self-story.
Interviewer: So, thinking about something now, I am in my early 40’s. And I used to be very flexible and used to move a lot in my childhood. And even in my 20’s, I could do stuff and then I stopped training. And then I couldn’t do it. And I thought I would never be able to do that stuff again. But as I am doing this stuff that you are talking about, I find that my body can do it again. So I limited myself thinking “I’m too old”.
[00:19:41] Interviewee: Yeah, of course. And it doesn’t matter what the story is, there are lots of stories. “I’m just not good at this”. Well, did you try? And if you go into something with the attitude that you are not going to be able to do it, why bother trying? You shouldn’t even try. “I’m weak, I’m this, I’m that”. Physical training should be a real vehicle to teach that, because it’s fairly simple. You pick up one kilogram. If you pick up one kilogram enough times, guess what? You can pick up two kilograms. It just works. There’s a very simple message in that, which is: There is a thing that was impossible, you couldn’t pick up two kilograms. But you did some work and now you can. And that is this idea of a growth mindset. It’s a very simple, embodied, physical way of teaching that concept. You learn, you’re like “I couldn’t do this thing and now I can”. And there are lots of other things like this. Juggling is a great example. Juggling or a handstand for example.
Interviewer: I tried juggling with three balls, I just couldn’t do it. I’m not saying that I can’t do it, I probably can, but I just need to practice, right?
[00:20:52] Interviewee: Well, yes and no. Yes, it’s as simple as that, but it’s more complicated than that. Juggling, for example, if you take three balls and you try and juggle is probably going to be pretty hard. You are probably going to give up fairly quickly. Because there is no process. And if you break it down into parts, with juggling you’d start with one ball. And you just learn to throw the ball between one hand and the other. Like a really smooth arch. And again, you practice and you do repetitions. Until you’ve got that really perfect. And then you introduce a second ball and you throw from one hand and with time you throw the second ball. And you practice that. And again, it’s built off the first skill. So, if you get that wrong, it’s probably because you didn’t practice the first one enough. And you back to practice. Then from there, once you can do two balls perfectly, you add a third ball and with a bit of timing, boom, you’ve got it and you can juggle. And you’ve taken something that seemed impossible. And you break it down into steps and you put in the work and you are going to have a process, you are going to understand it. You have broken it down and you are going to be motivated to do it. And then, all of a sudden, whatever your time frame is, you can do something that was previously impossible. And that for me, this is your life lesson. And this is what you should be taking and applying elsewhere. And I’ve had people say that since training with me, they look at things differently. And that is what I fundamentally believe. There are limits. We can’t fly yet. Yet. But yeah, you should be able to… Any kind of problem, you see it as just a problem. It’s not a big problem, it’s just a problem. Problems can be solved. You are going to break it down into parts, practice, continue. And it’s a very, very big thing. And that growth mindset then has huge impacts on psychological health. Problems at work, all these kinds of things. You see the world as full of possibility, rather than this impossible kind of thing. This is one of the areas where the psychology influenced my choice to do this. And essentially, physical training has big cognitive and emotional components and benefits. But again, only if you do it a certain way. You have to have that stuff in mind, in order to choose your activities correctly. And again, a lot of people, what they are doing doesn’t really teach them that. Because they are doing the same stuff over and over and it is very limited. And then they run into problems.
Interviewer: Jon, I’m intrigued by the movement, the emotion thing, the awareness. Loving the rings, by the way. I wish I had them in my house. I was looking at the About page on your Original Gym website, you mentioned somebody called Moshe Feldenkrais. And he talks about movement and awareness. I’ve never even heard of that.
[00:23:51] Interviewee: Yeah, this a big thing. It was kind of an accident that I came across his work. And I was looking for awareness of movement. Which is a really big thing. And it does develop that. But there is a much bigger thing beyond that. This goes back to a lot of psychology, essentially. It actually goes back to guys like William James in 1891. And they are talking about this idea that all of our thoughts, emotions and thinking are rooted in the body. And therefore, if you believe that and actually working with the body is the best way of working with the mind. So for example, some of Feldenkrais’ early work, he was writing stuff in the early 1940’s. He is one of the first judo black belts, European. So he looked at judo, he looked at body development, he looked at psychology. He was engineer trained, so he really looked at the body from an engineering perspective. And his big thesis was essentially, if you are not addressing the body in psychotherapy – one of his books was a critique of Freud – then you are not going to change someone. Because our whole self-identity, our thoughts and emotions are embedded in the body. So you might do some talking, therapeutic work until someone feels better, but the minute they get up from the couch – which is one thing that he said Freud got right – they go back into their body pattern and all of their problems come back because it is associated with how they’re holding their body. It’s a really interesting idea. And it goes way back. The real yoga, the early yoga texts, this is a big thing.
Interviewer: It’s almost like we’ve lost that connection to the body in the industrial age?
[00:26:07] Interviewee: I would say, the one biggest thing that I believe in and that we need to do, is to reconnect. And this idea of connection is a very powerful idea. People aren’t connected to their bodies. They are in their body, but they don’t feel it. Recently I was at a train station. Having coffee, waiting for a train. I was looking at people walking. And what’s really interesting, you look at a crowd of people and how many people are hobbling and dragging their legs along? Or body builders in a gym, they’ve pumped themselves up and it just looks uncomfortable. It looks like they are wearing… Like I hate wearing a suit and a tie and this kind of stuff, it just kills me. I can’t move. People are living in uncomfortable bodies. You might have expensive clothes, but your body just looks really uncomfortable. And they just have uncomfortable bodies, I think. And I think it’s because they are disconnected from them. The same thing with for example food and nutrition, this kind of thing. I think that people don’t know what is good and bad for them. They don’t have a good felt sense. And you can look at the psychology literature, which is really interesting, because it looks at interception. Which is our sense of our self. So our physical self. The classic way of measuring this is how accurate you are sensing your own heart rate. So some people have a very good sense, they can just feel “Ah, my heart rate ‘Boom, boom, boom’, like this”.
Interviewer: Without even touching it?
[00:27:54] Interviewee: Yeah, without touching. Just internal feeling. It’s a measure of one’s interoceptive ability. And there are big correlations with greater interoceptive ability and low interoceptive ability. A big one is eating disorders and that’s both being very, very overweight and very underweight. It’s the same kind of thing, a feeling for how much should they be eating. They have just disconnected from this idea.
Interviewer: And some people don’t feel full and I can’t even relate to that, because when I eat a meal, I feel full after it.
[00:28:38] Interviewee: Exactly, it’s the same kind of idea. Actually, you have the same thing emotionally. Our body is like a theatre for our emotions. So when you experience an emotion, it’s like it’s played out in your body. And then that’s something you are supposed to paying attention to. And we can see this a lot in the way people talk, the way people move, they put their hand on their chest a lot when they’re saying one thing.
Interviewer: Are there techniques to connect back to our body? Or is it nothing you can put your finger on?
[00:29:17] Interviewee: Yeah, in terms of techniques, it’s more of an approach than a technique, I would say. One of the big things is essentially to meditate upon the body. And it sounds like a wacky concept, but it’s a really simple thing to do. There is an exercise that a lot of meditation teachers teach. In this exercise you take a raisin and you chew on it. And you chew and you chew, you just pay attention to it. and when your mind wanders off, you come back to it and you keep chewing. And there is a very similar exercise that people use. Creative writing, where you take a simple act, like lighting a candle is the classic one. And you have to write four pages on lighting a candle. And you think “I lit the candle”, right? That’s four words. That’s someone who’s “I live in my body”. As opposed to write “I pick up the match and I feel it, the wooden texture. I lift it from the box”. And you can write all day about it. The noise of the match brushing against the thing and it’s sparking and bla, bla, bla. And it’s a very simple idea, it’s about depth. So you can take a very, very simple thing and you just try and feel deeper and deeper into it. And there’s a process I teach with this, you can take – as a simple example – lie on the floor and take a very simple movement, like rolling an arm or a leg. And pay attention and just keep doing it and keep doing it until you feel more and more layers. You feel ripples through the body. So I would cue through this process.
Interviewer: Is this something you do at this gym or do you just tell people to do it at home?
[00:31:02] Interviewee: It’s a process that I would teach. But once you have done it, it’s more an idea that you should then apply, in general. As an exercise it is very, very useful. And there is more to it than what I am saying. But it’s a good place to start with this idea of connecting, feeling your skeleton. You can do a very simple movement and you’re like “Ah okay, which muscles can I feel doing this? Can I feel my skin moving? Can I feel that as my clothes, my weight is shifting? I’m moving my wrist, do I hold my breath? Do I shift my weight around? Do I feel something else going on?”. And you’re becoming more connected to your body, to your musculoskeletal system. There are other things as well. There are meditations where you pay attention to your heart rate, to your breathing, all this kind of stuff. So it’s a very, very big topic. And there are some things that I like and there are things that are very ancient practices, that go back a long, long way. And there are things that the contemporary neuroscience spends a lot of time looking at what’s going on in the research.
Interviewer: Do you find that these ancient traditions and ways of doing things almost… Science is explaining that now, like “Oh, this is what’s actually happening when you do this type of thing”?
[00:32:21] Interviewee: Oh, for sure. Yeah, 100%. There is a very big question there.
Interviewer: So it’s almost as if science is taking us away from the voodoo kind of spiritual thing and saying “Hey, this is actually real stuff”?
Interviewee: Yeah, for sure.
Interviewer: It’s comforting people, because if they want to break out and connect back, they don’t have to think “Well, I have to get all wacky, weird and religious”. It’s science.
Interviewee: Science is one thing to look at. It’s not the only thing to look at, it’s a process.
Interviewer: A scientific learning?
[00:32:57] Interviewee: Yeah, they are learning new things and they’ll go off dead alleyways. And then the tide of evidence changes, this kind of thing. So it’s definitely something to look at. But you can look at all of this stuff in a much simpler way. We want to move, right? I think we’ve got an innate drive to move. Maybe some people have really lost it. But a lot of people, you put them in the right kind of situation and they want to move. Like people going out on a Friday night. In the UK, people go out to clubs and they dance. And maybe they drink a little bit or whatever, that’s the thing. It takes that shift in what is going on in your brain, to get people to dance. But why is that there? I think there is an innate drive that people have to want to move. People do want to play sports, they do want to go on a run. And move around, all of this kind of stuff. I think what has happened, is just because of the way our society is now…
Interviewer: There are not many opportunities.
[00:34:10] Interviewee: There are not many opportunities, or they are formal, or the fun has been taken out of it. Sports can be very competitive, I think the gym in general, a lot of people aren’t in the gym. In a sense, the whole gym and fitness industry is kind of a failure, really.
Interviewer: Let’s talk about that. Because I want to ask you, people will go to the gym. And they will only go for like three months. And then people will drop off. Why do you think that’s happening? How do we stay motivated?
[00:34:56] Interviewee: What I would do, I would question the original motivation. And if people start doing something and stop doing it, then they didn’t really want to do it. That is the honest answer. They didn’t really want to do it. If you really want to do something, you’ll do it. You’ll find a way. Those motivations are ones that I think are kind of shallow and I don’t see them as so sustainable. If people want to lose weight or look good or this kind of thing. Or maybe they just have a realization of “I need to do something for my health”. You’re doing something for something else. You’re not doing it for its own sake. Like people in the fitness industry, the last people on Earth to ask about this, the motivational memes and stuff that they share, they want to be there. I don’t know why, they just love lifting some weights and doing whatever and going for a run. So they are the last people to ask. I think, for this kind of thing, the fitness industry is a big failure, actually. You’ve got a lot of people who aren’t interested in it, from every part of the spectrum. If you can actually move, if you are a decent mover, you’re not going to go to the gym and do that nonsense. You’re going to be dancing, doing some parcours, doing a martial art. You’re going to be doing something where you’re really moving. And the idea of going into a gym and getting on a treadmill and doing some bicep curls, you just think it’s nonsense. For good movers, they just look at this thing and it’s just kind of dumb. You see people who can move well and they’re ex-athletes and they didn’t quite make it or whatever. And in the fitness industry you can be king. If you can do some elementary gymnastics, you look like the Messiah in the fitness industry. So it fails those people and then equally, it fails ordinary people or people with injuries. I think they are failed by it as well. And it goes back to the self-development aspect. They’re not engaging in the process. They don’t want to do it, because it’s not interesting. And it’s not learning anything, it’s like a form of self-punishment or something like that, that only lasts so long. Really, if all you want to do is losing weight for a wedding or something like that, don’t come to me. It’s not what I do.
Interviewer: So you find that the people who come to you, the style of gym, the longevity, the commitment, do you think it’s quite long?
[00:37:51] Interviewee: Yeah, on average, yeah. I would say, I have people who come and they do a little bit and they don’t come back. Maybe it’s not for them. What I do isn’t for everyone. They are maybe not in the same place as me or someone has come here for whatever reason. But I’ve got a lot of people who have been with me for a very, very long time and have realized their journey. Again, if you’ve got a process, it’s endless. And that’s not to say “I’m going to keep taking your money forever”, or that kind of thing. It’s not about that. You’re engaging in a process where you’re constantly learning things, there is always a refinement to be made, you’re learning new things. You hit a roadblock, you can’t do this thing, we work around it, you learn something new. If you have a moving perspective, there’s so much to learn. You’ll never run out of things to do. And fitness is this really small thing. It’s like a little drop in the ocean. And movement is such a bigger picture. For me, going back to [00:39:07] work, for me, what I liked finding, I liked finding something that I can’t do. Something that I am rubbish at. Because to me, it’s like “Ah, okay, this is a thing that I can improve”. So I can’t do this thing. Maybe it’s my ego as well. Maybe I feel shitty that I can’t do something. I am a fairly competitive kind of person. So if I can’t do x, that is something that I can improve. And if I improve that thing, as a by-product, I get all of these other benefits. If we are looking at the dance world, for example, for me – I have done a lot of martial arts – beginning to dance is very interesting, because it’s very similar, there are a lot of common threads between the two. Working with a partner, pushing the opponent, that kind of stuff. But I began to feel like I am very uncoordinated. It’s just really interesting. So you get this bigger picture of movement. And again, when I was working in conventional gyms, looking around I would see people who had been going there for years and they were doing the same stuff for years. And I would say “Let’s take you out of here and see what’s the product of this”. So I can’t dance and how do you get on? If all I had been doing is workouts on a rowing machine and all of a sudden you have to do something different, you are maybe not going to do so well. Go rock climbing, go swim, go do all of these other things. It’s a big, huge world of movement. The body, there are so many articulations and joints, there is so much to learn. That one kind of thing is really small.
Interviewer: I find that when I play touch rugby just once in a while, the next day I’m like “Oh, I didn’t know I had that muscle”.
[00:41:09] Interviewee: Yeah, of course. There is the thing of getting the depth of things right. And that’s a tricky question. And for me, I suppose I was a product of a lot of work and I guess I was the guy for this, really. It’s bringing these different things together and seeing the connection between them and making it a coherent thing. So what a lot of people are doing, they are maybe lifting weights on Monday, they go for a run on a Tuesday and do some yoga on a Wednesday. And that’s good, that’s a better approach than only doing one of those things. But again, for me, I’ve got a different purpose. So the choices that I might make within one area are formed by a bigger picture and connections to other things, if that makes sense.
Interviewer: So let’s just move on to the nutrition now. Because if somebody is interested in your type of workout, let’s say someone’s like, “I’d like to be more flexible, more mobile. I want my body to last longer into my 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s. So then when I’m 60 and I don’t trip over and break my hip and then die. So I’d be interested in this type of thing, what do you suggest? Or maybe you don’t have suggestions, about diets and nutrition?
[00:42:37] Interviewee: It’s really, really important. I would go beyond nutrition. Nutrition and movement are part of a bigger thing, which is our lifestyle. Nutrition is similar to fitness in a way, it’s a very tricky area. The nutrition world especially, with books in the shops and the internet, it’s very tribal. When we spoke, you mentioned keto or vegan, these are very tribal things.
Interviewer: Because they are trying to build an industry about it, maybe?
[00:43:26] Interviewee: Yeah, I think that’s a big thing. Looking from a psychological perspective, diet is something that people might use to construct their identity. It’s like “I’m a this. I’m a that”. It’s very common to see certain kinds of exercise to go hand in hand with certain kinds of diet. Like it’s very popular and there are some popular connections there. But as opposed to where to start with nutrition, there are details, right? In everything. But I think the big places to start, I think there are two or three big things to look at. Starting places for how you are going to eat. One of the first things would be essentially, what I would call the ancestral or evolutionary perspective on eating. Or a historical look at eating. People nowadays come out of the supermarket with trolleys full of foods. Well, food…
Interviewer: Packaged, processed?
[00:44:40] Interviewee: Yeah, packaged products. So what they’ve done is, they’ve got food products. A hundred years ago, those products wouldn’t exist. And we’re looking at a risk thing here. For x thousands of years, we’ve been eating these things called ‘food produce’ and the last little while we’ve been eating these products. And if you are eating something that doesn’t have a long history, you are kind of taking a chance with it. They say it’s safe.
Interviewer: But they are just saying that, right?
[00:45:14] Interviewee: Yeah, I think it’s a very powerful perspective, looking at risk and to have a historical perspective. There have been some horrible, horrible things. In medicine, for example, fertilizers, you go back to the 50’s with the DDT. Thalidomide. There have been these real horror stories. There are certain things that concern me. I was listening to someone the other day, who was talking about GMO. I really want to get into a specific thing about GMO itself. But one of the interesting things, there was a study done on GMO grains and they fed it to some mice. And they see the effects in the third generation.
Interviewer: So it’s not immediate?
[00:46:07] Interviewee: Not immediate, no. The first generation that had this GMO stuff were fine, they were happy as Larry. And you only see the effects after three generations, most of them were infertile or something like this. A big problem. I think that’s a very powerful filter, look at things that come from nature and avoid things that don’t. It’s a simple filter. It’s not 100% right or wrong.
Interviewer: Sometimes when you eat too often, you might be a little bit too full to do this type of thing. Do you suggest intermittent fasting as well? Some people have strict times when they eat and they don’t eat in between. Do you suggest that?
[00:46:54] Interviewee: No, again, this is one of the dietary tribes, you’ve got 16-8 and warrior and all of this kind of stuff. There are lots of different kinds of approaches to intermittent fasting. I think a lot people feel a lot of benefits from intermittent fasting. Most of the benefits are simply digestive. You are giving the digestive system a bit of a break. People broadly feel better, but I think there are some big problems with that. A lot of people who are doing intermittent fasting – and I would actually say the same thing, when I mentioned the ancestral, primal, historical approach in nutrition, evolutionary – that often gets tied in with some other things that I don’t think are particularly great. Low carb, for example. Whether it is Atkins, whether it is keto. I kind of put low carb and intermittent fasting together. I don’t think they are a good idea. And we’ll get into some fairly technical reasons why.
Interviewer: We could probably talk about that on the next episode.
[00:48:12] Interviewee: Yeah, maybe another time. Yeah, I don’t think it’s a great idea. It’s something to play with, for sure. It actually goes back to my second point that I would make in terms of nutrition. And it is the connection with the body. And the connection should also be with our food, for example. Literally like holding your food, making it yourself with your hands. It gives you a sense of the quantities you are eating. Say you had to pick all your food, if you literally had to go and get it, you probably wouldn’t overeat. Because you’d be like “Okay, I’ve got enough food now, I can carry on”. It just doesn’t make sense, to spend more energy than you are getting from your food. So I think there’s something about the embodied connection with the food. A big thing I think, is a whole picture of stress and energy. And this is another kind of thing, very basic evolutionary psychology. Every faculty on our mind exists for a reason. It has a history. Like cravings for example. Why do we have cravings? Why do we think, “Oh man, I really like this one thing”? And sometimes you got a taste for something “I want something a little bit salty” or “I want something a bit sweet” or this kind of thing. And I think that those exist for a reason and they’re not to be ignored.
Interviewer: So our body needs that at the time?
[00:49:43] Interviewee: Precisely. I think that is something not to be ignored and it’s something to embrace and look it at it and go “Ah, this is what my body needs right now. And I am going to eat that. But I am going to do it in a smart way”. So I am not going to do something, maybe have some health problems, like pig out on x, y, z. And it just goes back to your connection with your body. I think stress is a huge thing. There is a very interesting connection of studies that look at stress and sugars. It turns out that sucrose brings down our stress hormones. There are some studies, physiology shows this. And then there is a theory, essentially, most people are pretty stressed and this is product of our current environment. You have to drive to work, you have a boss that you hate but you have to make money to pay the mortgage. All of this kind of stuff. So people are pretty stressed and the paper title was “Self-medication by sucrose”. There was a journal article on this. And the theory is that we learned to bring our stress levels down by ingesting sweet things. And then people go and do this and they overdo it and they get into a cycle: “This is bad for me, I’ve done something bad, I’ve sinned”.
Interviewer: And then they are down on themselves.
[00:51:14] Interviewee: Yeah, exactly. And you can end up in some bad places with that, versus accepting it and looking at what you’re doing and being like “Okay, this is what I need, now I am going to eat something that is going to nourish me”. One of the things I learned in psychology is the power of an important metaphor. Metaphor in our language is this really, really important thing. Things like clean eating, this is a moral metaphor. There is a dirty cheat or a dirty liar, disgust is very tied in with morality. And this goes back to the whole embodied kind of thing. All of our thoughts are rooted in physical experience and inside of mental scaffolding, we’re into intellect and body commission here, that we actually think through the body. So, a good example of this, someone’s a warm person or they’re a bit of a cold person, our situation is heavy, a lot of our language is using words that are connected to our physical reality. And this plays out in our bodies. I was talking about this the other day. A very, very simple experiment, they took people to the bottom of a hill. And they are asked to estimate the angle on the hill. And they had two conditions. So they will give you a sugary drink, it contains energy. And they give you an artificial sweetener. And in the condition where you have this drink that contains calories, it gives you energy, you look at the hill and people judge it as less steep. Why? Because they have resources, they have energy. When you have energy, you look at the world and it doesn’t look as hard. You’ve got possibility. And then you have this whole thing about energy and metabolism and stress and learned helplessness. So the intermittent fasting, a similar kind of thing is, there was a study showing that people who skip breakfast spontaneously move less. So you see people getting up, walking around, fidgeting, you’re moving throughout the day. And if you skip breakfast, you move less. Now you could say our calorie for calorie is the same thing. And again if your only focus is weight loss for example, you’re going to have a very myopic view on nutrition and you’re going to be lacking in energy and the world is going to look like hard work.
Interviewer: And you’re going to give up in the end.
[00:53:50] Interviewee: You’re going to give up. There are bigger picture things going on there. The other part of that study, it was very interesting, is through social support. They did the same kind of thing, they were at the bottom of the hill and if you are on your own, you think the hill is steeper than if you are with a friend. So it’s about this embodied sense of resources. If you’re running up a hill and you trip over and you fall, you’ve got your friend to help you up. But we really think in those kinds of ways. And there is a whole body of work there, that I think a lot of people are ignorant of. And again, it’s very simple, the underlying message is to pay attention to your intuition, feel your body. It’s a very simple message. But there’s a lot of fairly hard science backing it up.
Interviewer: So habits, daily habits. Just give us the Jon Nicholson habits, when he wakes up, when he goes to bed routine. If it’s not the same every day, just give us a flavour of what you do? Is there something that you do every day?
[00:54:59] Interviewee: So, I’m going to give you the horrible answer: Habits are our compulsion. And you don’t want to build in habits, unless you need to. That was a bad answer. Spontaneity is a big thing lacking. With aging, what people tend to do as they age, they become more and more routine, they are doing the same things. So I think that habit thing, there’s a little bit of a flip side to that. But to answer your question, the number one thing that I do every day, or try to do every day, is to simply lie on the floor. It’s a very simple thing. Flat hard floor, rug or something and I just lie on the floor, close my eyes and connect to my body. Like the stuff that we talking about. And I start from there. And why I’m doing that, I kind of feel what’s going on and this takes time to get there, but I can feel “Ah, I’ve got some tension here”, or “I’m feeling stiff here”, this kind of thing. And I just check in with myself. Maybe I go off into more of a kind of a meditation. Maybe I start to move a little bit and maybe I’m like, “Man, do you know what I need to do? I need to get up and really move and do something more physical and more full on”. But that’s the number one thing I would say. A good place to start, connect your mind and body, lie on the floor.
Interviewer: Part of the journey, isn’t it?
[00:56:35] Interviewee: Yeah. Part of the journey. Normally my cat comes over and jumps on me. That’s great. I would say that’s a big thing. And obviously from there, if you’ve got musculoskeletal issues that you need to address, you probably need to be doing that every day. There’s some mobility work. There are things we should be doing every day anyway. You should make sure you move your body through a full range of motion all the time. Sit down and kneel, roll around, hang from something. We should be moving, we should be walking, all that kind of stuff. And there’s a time to be structured about it. There is a time to use formal tools to do a specific stretch, to do some strength training, to do some very structured work. There’s time for that where you say, “Right, I’ve got this goal, I want to achieve this thing, I’ve got this problem I need to do for me every day. I need to spend 10 minutes doing x, y, z”. Of course that’s a thing. But the biggest thing is just move more, live in your body.
Interviewer: Jon, our listeners are predominantly in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. What advice would you give them – as a parting shot to sum it all up – this is what you should really focus on? Because they are not going to be able to focus on everything we’ve said today. But some key take-away nuggets for those different age groups. If it’s all the same, it’s fine. What’s your nugget?
[00:58:18] Interviewee: I am going to give two answers. First of all, I am going to dismiss the question and say that age is just a number. And that’s a corny way of saying it. There are some physical realities. But if you’re engaging with the process of working with your body and your movement, there’s no end to improvement. You should always be learning new abilities, new skills. You may not be improving certain kinds of psychical characteristics. But you can always be engaging with the process. And not box yourself into age as a kind of thing like “I’m 40 now, I shouldn’t be doing this”. Well guess what, you just made yourself 40. You just put yourself in that box and there’s only one way from there, which is to climb. One of the things with aging is, if you look at everything that increases with age and try to decrease it, you’ll be anti-aging. And the same thing, if you look at everything that decreases with age and try to increase it, that’s the other part of an anti-age strategy. And a very obvious example of that is one’s movement repertoire. So traditionally, you look at someone, a young kid and they are jumping around and bouncing around and playing around. And then someone in their 40’s, they are wearing jeans that are too tight and a jacket. And they can barely move. They’re only going one way and that’s less and less and less, and they’re doing less and less and less and less. And eventually, you’re doing nothing. And that’s when you die. People give up a sport or they give up this or they stop doing that or “I’m older now”, this kind of thing. You’re either growing or you’re shrinking, as far as I’m concerned. So that is my first answer. For the 20-year-olds, it should be fairly simple, keep moving. Play, do lots of different things. Play sports, move around, all this kind of stuff. Although, I’ve had some 20-year-olds through the door whose body is literally a disaster. I mean, just insane. It is really sad to see. I think that the impact of things like computer games, kids that are spending a lot of time indoors and not moving. And it’s kind of shocking to see, I think, 20-year-olds whose bodies are really in a bad place.
Interviewer: Almost like 40, 50-year-old bodies.
[01:00:50] Interviewee: Yeah, exactly. Really big problems. But they can work on it, that’s fine. 30-year-olds, one thing I would say to probably most 30-year-olds, make sure that what you’re doing is giving you more than it’s taking from you. But you’re probably not going to hammer your body in the same way that you could in your 20’s. I see that kind of people in that age group probably hammering things a little bit too much. Start to think about being a bit smarter in your training, essentially. 40-year-olds, that’s the best place to be, right? The 40-year-olds are the best. Because there’s no ego. You’ve lost whatever competition that you wanted to. That kind of competitive thing is gone. So then you’re in a place to really change yourself and move forward and develop your movement, develop your body. You’re probably not going to try and squat more than the brother next to you and screw your back up. You’re a bit smarter and wiser by then. So the 40-year-olds, just bear in mind that it’s all possible, that you can change your body, you can move, you can improve. And if you have growth mindset and you have the right approach, there’s definitely no reason at all a 40-year-old shouldn’t be moving really well.
Interviewer: Jon, I’m intrigued. How old are you?
Interviewee: Oh dear, this is the million-dollar question. I’m actually 40 this year.
Interviewer: The big four zero.
[01:02:31] Interviewee: It’s pretty funny, literally, so many times people have been like, “Yeah, you know, when you get to my age…”. There are certain things that for a long time, I guess, health and lifestyle wise that I’ve done for a long time, that probably helped. I haven’t drunk alcohol in decades. And I’ve been pretty physically active. And diet, nutrition and that kind of stuff. I was a vegetarian for quite a long time and I think that was probably a positive thing. And then that’s kind of changed. But it has been a big thing for a long time. Just paying attention to nutrition, that kind of thing. Obviously not smoking. Yeah, still alive.
Interviewer: Jon Nicholson, it’s been great having you on the Lifeshot.
Interviewee: Cool, wicked.
Interviewer: Thanks mate.