Wednesday 24 May 2017

When you work on yourself, everything outside yourself becomes easier

Mother/model/health coach Alison Canavan talks self-care with Claire O'Mahony... and reveals she would ban new year's resolutions

Alison with her six-year-old son, James
Alison with her six-year-old son, James

IF, in these final days of January, you're beating yourself up over failing to keep your new year's resolutions, and haven't yet transformed into a new and improved version of yourself, you might take solace from Alison Canavan's stance on this month's omnipresent self-improvement movement. The mother, model, and health and wellness coach doesn't believe in overhauling everything this month.

"It irritates me mildly, if not quite a lot. It's the time of year when you think you will wake up and change everything about your life," says Alison, who is mum to James. "It's all about small steps, small changes, monthly goals, weekly goals. By the end of January, most people will have reneged on their resolutions and that's very hard. And you know if you set yourself up for failure, you feel bad about yourself, and I don't see any point in that. Moving into the new year should be about nurturing yourself, practising self-care and planning goals, and having realistic targets that you can work towards. It's about making you feel good, not bad."

This was very much a key message of her book, Minding Mum: It's Time to Take Care of You (Gill), which was published last year. Mothers, she maintains, must focus on themselves as much as their children for the whole family's benefit.

"When you work on your inner world, your outer world will naturally change, and when you work on yourself, everything outside yourself becomes easier. Once you start realising that, you understand that if you have been giving everything to everyone else and you haven't been giving to yourself, you're going to be unhappy, you're going to be tired and you're going to be stressed," the 38-year-old explains. "So you need to mind yourself first and everybody else will naturally get looked after. It's the universal law - it's not my law - and it's the way things work."

But while she mightn't have made any resolutions per se, and she didn't expect the year to start with a miracle, she works at putting herself into a positive space by practising meditation and gratitude, and by journalling. "I think that's something we need to do daily for ourselves, in our own lives. I'm such a great believer in making things happen for myself. Every morning, I make sure that I do what I have to do to make the day go well," she says.

In terms of 2017, she proclaims she's "raring to go". Last year was one of contrasts for her, with high points such as the book coming out but also difficulties and stresses as well. She revealed last year that she had battled alcohol problems - using it as a form of escapism and using partying to numb her problems - which provoked a huge public reaction.

"It [the reaction] was bigger than I ever thought it would be and it took more out of me than I thought it would, a lot more," she says. "I didn't expect to get so many emails; I didn't expect to hear so many emotional stories from people. I did understand that we have a drinking culture, obviously, but I didn't realise how badly it's affecting people in their day-to-day lives - more people than we'd care to think. I would never have said that before and would have kept my problem quite personal - it's just my issue, or whatever - but I really think it's a bigger problem than we know. It made me realise we have quite a large alcohol issue in Ireland that does need to be tackled."

If she found her revelation to be draining, it was also releasing in many ways, leaving her feeling that a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. "I don't know how to be anything else but honest, and I feel it's necessary for me to be honest - and I can't really help people without telling them the real story," she says.

She has recently teamed up with Grow It Yourself Ireland (GIY) and Energia to promote the 'Energia Get Ireland Growing' initiative, which invites community and voluntary organisations to apply to a €70,000 pool of funding. This money will enable groups to start or develop a community food-growing project in their local area. Applications can be made online at www.giyinternational.org/energia-get-ireland-growing.html and the deadline is tomorrow, Thursday January 26.

The initiative reflects Alison's passion for health and wellness, as well as the way she has redesigned her life. "I wanted to know about where my food came from and I've developed a big interest in that in the last couple of years," she explains. "Myself and James shop in our local market, the Green Door Market [in Newmarket, Dublin 8], every Saturday and I absolutely love the sense of community and connection that comes with it. We really understand where our food comes from - it's organic, and an awful lot of it is grown by local farmers."

While she'd always toyed with the idea of growing her own veg, she fell back on the usual excuses of it being too difficult or not having enough space. But now she's eagerly embracing the concept, starting off with herbs, with plans to grow lettuce, tomatoes, garlic, blueberries (which she uses every day in smoothies) and more, particularly potatoes, which James is especially keen to start growing.

"Yes, they need a little bit of TLC, but not much," she points out. "You can grow in window boxes and you can grow a lot of stuff in pots. There's a great satisfaction from knowing you've grown and cooked something that's on your plate, and I think that for families and kids and communities around the country, it's absolutely brilliant. It can give people a sense of purpose."

And of course, there's the incredible taste, which every home grower is familiar with. Alison remembers first eating homegrown fruit and vegetables at a friend's house, and that marked a turning point for her. "I ate gooseberries - and I really don't like them at all - and they were the most delicious things I had ever tasted in my entire life. I felt like Charlie in the Chocolate Factory. The tomatoes tasted like tomatoes! And as for the lettuce, you didn't even need dressing."

Her son James is six years old (he's currently soccer-mad) and she says that now, the baby stuff seems like centuries ago. "My sister just had a little baby, and I'd forgotten everything. She was asking me about weaning and I had to think back to a few articles I'd written and go back to them."

Next on the agenda for her are more talks, workshops and travelling. In April, she will appear at a key mindfulness leadership summit in Washington DC - Mindful Life Conference - alongside other mindfulness gurus, including the New York Times bestselling author Sharon Salzberg.

"It's all going in the right direction," Alison says, even if she does have moments of self-doubt. "I journal everything and, if I'm stressed, I try to focus on managing it. I don't think it's possible to completely get rid of stress in our lives, but you do whatever you have to do."

See alisoncanavan.com and giy.ie

Irish Independent

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