Broccoli, yoga and meditation: recipe for a stress-free life

June 21, 2002

Ground down by departmental budget cuts? Eat more broccoli. Lost out on a crucial research grant? Walk for half an hour a day. Worried that your institution's restructuring plans will mean job losses? Listen to the whispers of the soul.

A stress-busting strategy for Scottish educationists was unveiled by health and fitness guru Leslie Kenton at a recent one-day "energy, power and personal wellbeing conference". The event was organised by Tapestry, a multi-agency body that includes the Scottish Further Education Unit, and Edinburgh, Glasgow and Strathclyde universities, to address educationists' most common complaints of stress and overwork.

California-born Kenton, lithe and energetic at 60 and radiating charisma, was a compelling advert for her own regime. She spoke for almost five hours, and was constantly lobbied by delegates during the coffee and lunch breaks. Many wanted signed copies of her books, conveniently available at the venue. Kenton praised teachers for their key role in society alongside "healers and priests", although she condemned most education systems for teaching people to listen to authority rather than themselves. "If you want to be healthy, you have to honour the truth of who you are," she said.

"The single most important thing you can do to transform your ability to handle stress is to make changes from a dietary point of view, so that you do not deplete your body, and you create the metabolic balance that gives you mental clarity."

Kenton rejects the standard high-carbohydrate, low-fat, low-protein diet, which, she says, predisposes us to a range of physical and mood disorders since we are genetically programmed to thrive on a protein-rich hunter-gatherer diet. This excludes pasta, bread, potatoes, white rice and sugar, but approved foods include strawberries, avocados, venison and lobster. She also advocates brisk walking, strength training and relaxation techniques. A transformational blueprint for the tertiary sector?

Joan Forrest, senior lecturer in health education at Strathclyde University, would have preferred less emphasis on the individual and more on building health-promoting institutions. "There might have been more practical ways to helping people deal with stress, such as reassessing the way they approach their workload, the way in which they manage staff and how to approach issues that potentially could cause stress."

Maureen Caw of Coatbridge College was also looking for tips on juggling her workload. "It was interesting, but we found it a bit impractical. Things such as meditation and diet and exercise - we know about them, but it is difficult trying to cram them into a busy day."

Gerry Doyle of Glasgow Caledonian University was the only delegate from his institution, which he ascribes to pressure on staff. "It is difficult for people to take the time off for things like this. What she's saying takes a bit of planning and that is the difficult one, to take time to do that."

But he already rises early to do yoga, and is now contemplating further changes.

Jon Stevenson of Glasgow College of Building and Printing last year successfully altered his diet after suffering stress-related illness. It can be difficult for academics to admit to stress, he says, but he has found the college supportive and has subsequently won promotion. Stress management is now part of his personal development plan, and the college paid for him to attend Kenton's conference. Forrest and colleague Lesley Beaton were dubious about Kenton's overturning of conventional dietary wisdom. But Glasgow University delegate Hettie Mackinnon, a former GP, praised it as user-friendly and scientifically sound.

And Lynn Milligan of Glasgow College of Nautical Studies is a convert, now bringing in salads for lunch instead of eating macaroni cheese and pizzas in the canteen. "You cannot imagine the amount of spinach I've eaten. I feel so much better, and I'm not finding it a chore. Things at work are just the same, but probably because my diet's improving I feel as if I've got more energy."

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