Re-establishing a connection to the natural rhythm with Jen Raoult

Wellness: What does it mean to you?

While the term itself is oversaturated, the exploration of how we define ‘being well’ for ourselves is more important than ever. It’s personal, but it doesn’t need to be preachy or complicated. Health and wellness can be nurtured in any aspect of our lives, from the physical to the mental, emotional, spiritual and financial. Any of these pillars, when examined and cared for, can contribute to a richer and more enjoyable existence. In this series, we share the stories, challenges and discoveries of a diverse range of people who each have a unique perspective on health and wellbeing, and how these pillars manifest in their lives.

“Wellness is made up of the conscious choices we make in order to thrive instead of just survive.”

For photographer and film-maker Jen Raoult, a firm belief in the healing power of nature guides her approach to her own wellbeing. Having grown up in a small town in the South of France by the Mediterranean Sea, her career has taken her all over the world — from Paris to London, India, America, Mexico and Africa. She relocated to New Zealand in 2009 and, through it all, a close attachment to the natural environment has remained an important part of her life. 

“I believe wellness is directly related to the relationship we have with our environment,” she says. “Many of our ailments and discomforts in our lives, I think, come from a disconnection with our surroundings — with the natural world.” For Jen, the pursuit of wellness centres on finding a balance in all aspects of life — the emotional, the physical, spiritual and mental — through both stillness and movement; connection and nourishment, to re-establish a connection to the natural rhythm that guides all things. 

It’s also about living life to its full potential, she says. “Wellness is made up of the conscious choices we make in order to thrive instead of just survive.” 

This connection with the nature is a guiding factor in her photographic and film work. “I mainly photograph people in their natural environment, or a place they’re resonating with that tells their story. I also mainly work with natural light.” In terms of film-making, Jen says she loves taking people into an intimate and immersive experience, an emotional and sensorial journey that leaves an impression on more than just their intellect. 

When it comes to her own health journey, Jen says she’s not had any major issues to speak of, however has always harboured an awareness of the importance of a healthy lifestyle and how to go about working towards that. Her very first experience with a sauna was in Mexico, but rather than an infrared sauna, it was during an ancient sacred cleansing ceremony called a Temazcal ceremony — “basically, a sauna inside an igloo-shaped hut in the forest, led by a shaman.” 

“To look after ones self is to look after the whole.”

Jen started regularly frequenting Hana very soon after it opened, and loves that the space incorporates both the benefits of the infrared sauna and a beautifully-designed, calming and luxurious atmosphere. “I love hanging here. I always feel blissful the next day, with a lot of energy.” 

She has noticed several other benefits from regular sauna visits, including reducing muscle and back pain, and helping eliminate toxins in her body. “My skin is also looking and feeling amazing — so smooth,” she says. A large part of the appeal is the easing of mental burdens, thanks to a session in the sauna being so calming and relaxing. 

Jen’s other wellness rituals are copious – “I love rituals!” – and include 20 minutes of meditation upon waking every morning, followed by a self pamper session-of-sorts using natural oils, serums and moisturisers on her face and body after a shower. Diffusing essential oils in her house and drinking herbal teas are habitual, and she treasures moments of affection, kisses and cuddles with her partner and daughter. In these disconnected times, as many of us spend large chunks of the day on screens, the therapeutic effect of skin contact with loved ones is very important, she thinks. “But, the most essential one is spending time in nature, among trees or by the ocean,” says Jen. “This is the most healing, effective, powerful ritual — along with the kisses!” 

Jen believes that the key to establishing our relationship to the earth lies in seeking out self-knowledge and learning, and also in having a holistic viewpoint that looks externally as well as internally. “To look after ones self is to look after the whole. We need to feel responsible, as our wellness choices are impacting each and everyone — and the health of our planet.” 

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The power of changing your reality with Kelly MacDonald

Wellness: What does it mean to you?

While the term itself is oversaturated, the exploration of how we define ‘being well’ for ourselves is more important than ever. It’s personal, but it doesn’t need to be preachy or complicated. Health and wellness can be nurtured in any aspect of our lives, from the physical to the mental, emotional, spiritual and financial. Any of these pillars, when examined and cared for, can contribute to a richer and more enjoyable existence. In this series, we share the stories, challenges and discoveries of a diverse range of people who each have a unique perspective on health and wellbeing, and how these pillars manifest in their lives.

“Wellness to me means prioritising lifestyle, nutrition, training, mental health, relationships and self care. It is also having the ability to set goals and achieve them and help as many people as possible in that process.”

For some, a love of movement transcends a run-of-the-mill exercise regimen, soaring beyond the iterations many of us are familiar with trying to fit around other aspects of our lives. This is the case for award-winning personal trainer Kelly MacDonald, for whom dedicating herself to mobility and holistic health was an impetus sparked at a young age. From beginning rhythmic gymnastics at the age of seven, she was selected for the national squad by 12 and travelled the world competing for New Zealand, before representing the country in the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Having founded her personal training business in 2017, Kelly has gone on to become an in-demand mobility specialist, whose ability to connect with and understand her clients ultimately stems from her own experiences with health and wellness.

Kelly experienced a holistic upbringing from her mother, who sadly passed away from cancer two months before the Games in 2014. This, coupled with her own personal health struggles, helped to guide her career towards the health and fitness industry and holistic wellbeing. Nowadays, Kelly views the term ‘wellness’ as suitably well-rounded, encompassing many different aspects. 

“Wellness to me means prioritising lifestyle, nutrition, training, mental health, relationships and self care. It is also having the ability to set goals and achieve them and help as many people as possible in that process.” Wellness and balance are two terms that go hand-in-hand for Kelly, and the knock-on effects of not having balance are often directly impactful. “If I don’t get enough sleep, the reaction is that I don’t perform as well for my clients and that’s not fair to them,” she says. “Long story short, wellness is having all aspects of your life in balance — whatever that means for you.”

Having experienced issues with her digestive system growing up, plus hormonal imbalances, loss of her period for three years, migraines and seizures, Kelly says accepting that her body is sensitive has helped her prioritise its health and ability to function day-to-day. The most challenging of these has been her seizures, she says, which began at age 19. 

“I’ve had multiple since then and doctors haven’t been able to diagnose me with epilepsy. My brain simply decides when it’s burnt out and it decides to seize.” Lack of sleep, overstimulation and stress can all be catalysts, which is hard for Kelly as a go-getter who finds it challenging to relax. Because of this, her regular Hana sessions have been vital in helping her to prioritise taking time for herself.

“There is something about Hana, as soon as you walk in the door it’s like a zen zone — I feel immediately relaxed,” says Kelly.

“If you don’t like something in your life — change it. Only you have the power to change your reality.”

Other than blissful relaxation, Kelly has noticed several positive results from her regular weekly Hana visits. “My skin is so much clearer and I’m the healthiest I’ve been in a long time in terms of hormonal health. My period is back and regular, my digestion and gut health has not been an issue since I started and my body recovers so much better from all my training.”

Kelly has also loved the ability to bring a friend along to sit in one of the two-person saunas, combining a catch-up with beneficial infrared therapy, and plans to continue doing this moving forward as well as using it as a personal reflection space.

Other self-care practices that Kelly swears by are journaling, goal-setting and play. “Play is very important to me — I put a lot of pressure on myself to be at my best all the time, so giving myself permission to not take an activity so seriously sometimes, is so powerful.”

When it comes to her advice for a well and healthy life, Kelly says it’s important to remember we have the ability to make our own situation what we want it to be. “If you don’t like something in your life — change it. Only you have the power to change your reality,” she says. “Make sure you take some time to really find out what is it that you want to do, what your purpose is and how you feel you can help this world to leave your mark in a positive way. If you find your passion in life you will never be lost, and if you turn your passion into a career I promise you will never work a day in your life.”

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Choosing possibility over fear with Georgia Robertson

Wellness: What does it mean to you?

While the term itself is oversaturated, the exploration of how we define ‘being well’ for ourselves is more important than ever. It’s personal, but it doesn’t need to be preachy or complicated. Health and wellness can be nurtured in any aspect of our lives, from the physical to the mental, emotional, spiritual and financial. Any of these pillars, when examined and cared for, can contribute to a richer and more enjoyable existence. In this series, we share the stories, challenges and discoveries of a diverse range of people who each have a unique perspective on health and wellbeing, and how these pillars manifest in their lives.

Wellness to me in this season is about focusing on the foundation so I can show up and perform to the best of my abilities, and contribute towards changing the world for the better.”

When we are well, with no ailments, aches or pains to speak of, many of us tend to take our health for granted. It is the unfortunate nature of living in a healthy body that, rather than wake up every day filled with gratitude for the effective function of our cells, our limbs and organs, we can tend to focus on external things like our appearance, berating our strong, faithful bodies for their perceived “flaws”.

Being well is likely not something Georgia Robertson will take for granted again. An ex-corporate lawyer, Georgia is now CEO of Humanitix, an award-winning tech-charity backed by Google and Atlassian, transforming event booking fees into education funding, such as girls’ literacy programs.

Having had a lifelong interest in health from training for and playing competitive sport, Georgia has always loved the outdoors, living an active lifestyle and staying in shape. She was prompted to delve deeper into wellness than just a fitness aspect when addressing fatigue and burnout, an all-too-common occurrence in modern times. 

“Essentially, my glands were persistently up and my body’s check engine light was raring, stuck in perpetual fight or flight,” says Georgia.

For the CEO, her personal state of wellness is an important part of the change she wants to affect in the world. “Wellness to me in this season is about focusing on the foundation so I can show up and perform to the best of my abilities, and contribute towards changing the world for the better,” she says. “That includes being discerning with my energy and reducing my overall body load. I’ve been getting right back to basics, and building up from there. It’s a delicate dance between being kind to ourselves and knowing when to flex the personal discipline muscle.”

Earlier this year, Georgia was shown the importance of listening to her body’s warning signs when, at the end of the first lockdown, she was diagnosed with follicular non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of incurable blood cancer in the lymph nodes that make up our immune systems. 

“I was given a choice: watch, wait and let my cancer make the first move, or take aggressive action against it now to give myself the opportunity to heal in the long term.”

A cancer diagnosis is, understandably, fraught with anxiety, involving a large amount of wait time between tests, appointments, results and treatments. Georgia has been managing undergoing treatments like IVF, radiotherapy, gastroenterology work and has just started targeted chemotherapy, drawing on mental and emotional resilience garnered from her time charing the Board of Youthline CSI.

“Youthline operates from a counselling model about supporting young people to make choices that feel right to them and I’ve applied that directly to my case for myself,” she explains. “Each day I work at cultivating a mindset where I keep living for my most full, splendid and well life without allowing my decisions to be dictated by fear.”

I choose to make decisions based on possibility and not fear. What would you do if you weren’t afraid? How would you be in the world if you weren’t afraid?

Georgia started frequenting Hana the day the doors opened, and almost the day she received her diagnosis. “I walked in the doors seeking sanctuary to process all this overwhelming news.”

With the seal of approval from her medical team, which includes a haematologist, radiation oncologist, frontline GP, integrative medicine-practising GP, psychologist, dietician and gastroenterologist, Georgia says the infrared sauna has been an essential part of her healing process with myriad benefits. With its detoxing properties helping her body detox during radiotherapy, the sauna also helps to increase blood oxygenation, supporting cell regeneration.

“It’s also about boosting my immune system and nurturing my body to heal itself, bringing my number of natural killer cells back into equilibrium.”

The sauna also helps Georgia move forward through treatments, and manage the resulting muscular aches and pains. Managing a growing business at the same time as a cancer diagnosis requires strategic compartmentalising, she says. Hana provides space for her body to heal, but also her mind to diffuse the intensity of the experience. “I adore the ritual of going into this warm nurturing environment with the friendliest professionals who genuinely care about supporting your health journey and letting the day wash off. I love to finish with some hot-colds to really stimulate the vagus nerve and down-regulate my parasympathetic nervous system.”

Georgia has learned some raw lessons since her diagnosis, both on a personal level and on what it means for her goals for contributing to the world. “Chief is that my body is both my home and the vessel enabling me to contribute towards our vision for levelling the global playing field in education. Health at this level is a privilege, and learning to honour my home by becoming attuned to what it needs is the most productive thing I can do.”

Arguably vital in the fight for her health is her natural state as an eternal optimist. “Even though I’ve been dealt some challenging cards recently, I can reshuffle the deck by deciding how I respond. I choose to make decisions based on possibility and not fear. What would you do if you weren’t afraid? How would you be in the world if you weren’t afraid?”

And if all else fails, says Georgia, open up Spotify, search Eminem and put on Till I Collapse and let him do the rest.

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Healing hormones with Madeleine Walker of The Twenties Club

Wellness: What does it mean to you?

While the term itself is oversaturated, the exploration of how we define ‘being well’ for ourselves is more important than ever. It’s personal, but it doesn’t need to be preachy or complicated. Health and wellness can be nurtured in any aspect of our lives, from the physical to the mental, emotional, spiritual and financial. Any of these pillars, when examined and cared for, can contribute to a richer and more enjoyable existence.

In this series, we share the stories, challenges and discoveries of a diverse range of people who each have a unique perspective on health and wellbeing, and how these pillars manifest in their lives. 

“Right now, “wellness” means looking after myself in a way that allows me to show up as the healthiest, happiest and kindest version of myself for my friends, family and the people I work with.”

When it comes to health and wellness, Madeleine Walker is acutely aware of how the trickle-down effect of taking care of ourselves can influence everything from our relationships to how successful we are in our careers. The founder and director of The Twenties Club, an online platform catering to modern women, has built a dedicated community of readers who hang on her every word as she explores myriad topics from global politics to beauty, fashion, pop culture, business and, of course, health. 

Covering everything from hormonal wellbeing to exercise, burn-out, cosmetic surgery and mental health, Madeleine’s passion for investigating how we define wellness is by no means a recent development — including for herself. 

“I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have an interest, in some capacity, in my health and wellbeing,” she says. “In recent years, I’ve just become more acutely aware of what a privilege it is to have the means to take care of ourselves, so I try not to take it for granted.” 

While the term ‘wellness’ has meant different things to her at different points in her life, Madeleine says her current interpretation of wellness includes both herself and those around her.

“Right now, ‘wellness’ means looking after myself in a way that allows me to show up as the healthiest, happiest and kindest version of myself for my friends, family and the people I work with.” 

As too many women will have experienced, Madeleine’s own health journey and challenges revolve predominantly around issues with hormones and birth control, and the less-than-favourable side effects they can have. 

After years spent switching between different contraceptives, including a Mirena IUD which required surgery after it became lodged in the wall of her uterus, Madeleine decided it was time to restore her reproductive health, reinstating her ‘natural’ cycle and addressing any underlying issues at the same time.

This prompted her to begin working with naturopath Selina Singh.

“One of the first things we did was an OATs (Organic Acids Test), and that gave us a good snapshot of my overall health and how various pathways were working efficiently/inefficiently,” explains Madeleine. “We found that “phase two” of my liver detox pathways was incredibly sluggish – it was basically at a standstill – which meant I wasn’t detoxing things like excess adrenaline, estrogen or environmental toxins, as efficiently as I could be.”

In addition to targeted supplements, Selina requested that Madeline aim for an ‘intense sweat’ for at least 10-15 minutes each day to support her phase-two pathway — something Hana’s infrared saunas are more than capable of providing. 

“No one knows your body better than you do: if something feels wrong, then it probably is.”

Studies have shown that infrared saunas can be a very effective aid for detoxification, thanks to the fact that an infrared sauna uses invisible infrared wavelengths that mimic the way the sun produces heat, to heat the body’s core. 

By penetrating deep into the body, these wavelengths encourage the core temperature to slowly rise, allowing the body to gently remove the build up of unwanted toxins in its system.

Plus, it’s an all-round relaxing experience.

“I feel so calm when I’m in the sauna,” enthuses Madeleine. “I can actually feel my parasympathetic nervous system kicking in, my heart rate slowing down and my mind quietening. It’s truly one of the best feelings, and sits in such stark contrast with how I usually feel moving through my busy life.”

As for one of the key pieces of advice she’d like to share, the multi-talented writer and creative says it’s all about trusting your instincts. “No one knows your body better than you do: if something feels wrong, then it probably is.”

And one lesson she’s learned for herself? 

“That we shouldn’t settle for feeling mediocre, mentally or physically — we all deserve to feel fucking amazing.”

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Finding joy in the process with Dwayne Rowsell of Studio Box

Wellness: What does it mean to you?

While the term itself is oversaturated, the exploration of how we define ‘being well’ for ourselves is more important than ever. It’s personal, but it doesn’t need to be preachy or complicated. Health and wellness can be nurtured in any aspect of our lives, from the physical to the mental, emotional, spiritual and financial. Any of these pillars, when examined and cared for, can contribute to a richer and more enjoyable existence.

In this series, we share the stories, challenges and discoveries of a diverse range of people who each have a unique perspective on health and wellbeing, and how these pillars manifest in their lives. 

Right now, wellness means prioritising sleep by getting 7-9 hours per night, and making decisions that I know are going to make me feel good. This goes across nutrition, socialising and my own training.”

Fitness has always been a part of Dwayne Rowsell’s lifestyle. A Black Sticks Men’s Hockey player and the founder of Auckland boxing centre Studio Box, Dwayne has honed an ability to juggle multiple priorities at once, fitting morning and evening training sessions around education and full time employment. 

The seed for the creation of  Studio Box was planted outside Dwayne’s years with the NZ Hockey team, which he initially played for from ages 18 to 23. “I realised how powerful and important exercise is for your mental wellbeing, not just the physical,” he says. “When I started boxing, I immediately fell in love with the full-body workout it provides. Every session requires you to be totally present and challenges you physically in different ways, and the mental strength, confidence and sense of calm it provided me was second to none.”

Feeling inspired to share these results with people in a welcoming and non-intimidating way, plus knowing what it took to train at a professional level, Dwayne knew Studio Box was an idea he had to execute.

His perception of the wellness is constantly evolving, but right now he says it’s about prioritising sleep by getting 7-9 hours per night, and making decisions he knows are going to make him feel good. “This goes across nutrition, socialising and my own training,” he says. “I’ve got a busy mind and can be quite the perfection seeker so wellness is also finding stillness and being happy with where I’m at today.”

“I realised I was ‘doing’ not ‘being’.”

Having recently suffered a concussion while playing hockey, Dwayne has been focusing on recovery and Hana’s red light therapy pod has been a vital part of this process. 

“Studies have shown that near-infrared and red light applied to the brain through the skull have numerous positive effects,” says Hana founder Sara Higgins, “including increased cerebral blood flow, oxygen availability and consumption, energy production, neuroprotection and brain repair.”

“I’ve had six sessions and it’s helped with my recovery immensely,” says Dwayne, who also can’t speak highly enough of the infrared sauna. “I’ve fallen in love with it! 40 minutes in there just leaves me feeling so relaxed and calm, any anxiety I was carrying is gone. I would also have to say my skin complexion has improved.” 

The private room and shower feels like a sanctuary away from the world, he enthuses, a welcome feeling of escape from the frenetic pace of his day-to-day life.

The benefits also last beyond the time spent sitting in the sauna, with Dwayne usually sleeping incredibly well after a session. “I wear a strap on my wrist called Whoop which tracks my HR and HRV daily. Each night I get my sleep stats and after an infrared sauna I clearly get at least 10 percent more REM & deep sleep.”

Currently, Dwayne is enjoying learning how to sit with his own thoughts and manage anxiety from a self-imposed pressure to perform, something many of us struggle with. He started working with life coach Frances Wills last year, spurring a galvanising process of self-examination. 

“I realised I was ‘doing’ and not ‘being’ — I was afraid of stopping because I had become so conditioned to living in my head and not my heart,” he says. Being conscious of this tendency, among other things, Dwayne has found a joy in the process. “I’m still working on it, but that’s one of the beautiful things you learn when you take a deep dive inside yourself, you accept yourself and gain understanding that there isn’t an end point.”

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The importance of balance with Elliot de Lautour of Fitness All Together

Wellness: What does it mean to you?

While the term itself is oversaturated, the exploration of how we define ‘being well’ for ourselves is more important than ever. It’s personal, but it doesn’t need to be preachy or complicated. Health and wellness can be nurtured in any aspect of our lives, from the physical to the mental, emotional, spiritual and financial. Any of these pillars, when examined and cared for, can contribute to a richer and more enjoyable existence.

In this series, we share the stories, challenges and discoveries of a diverse range of people who each have a unique perspective on health and wellbeing, and how these pillars manifest in their lives. 

“Wellness is about taking ownership of my physical and mental health. Perfection is not the aim as that’s unrealistic but keeping a balance and sense of overall wellbeing is the desired goal. In turn, I am then able to inspire, motivate and empower my community.” 

In an all-too sedentary modern world, Elliot de Lautour has made it his business to stay active — and help other people do the same. 

The founder of Fitness All Together, a movement community centred on outdoor exercise classes, Elliot has created an atmosphere that is beloved by many Aucklanders for the sense of community it offers, along with a very effective full-body conditioning workout.

“We try our best to foster and facilitate an inclusive and welcoming environment for all walks of life,” he explains. “It’s pretty special seeing the amount of people that we connect and the continuous support they give each other on their fitness journey.”

Having become interested in health and wellness in his final years of high school, Elliot studied exercise science and went on to work in athlete development. These days, for him wellness means having a strong physical foundation to support all other aspects of health. 

“Wellness for me is about taking ownership of my physical and mental health,” he says. “Perfection is not the aim as that’s unrealistic but keeping a balance and sense of overall wellbeing is the desired goal. In turn, I am then able to inspire, motivate and empower my community”.

“Be experimental and cast your web wide to gain as much information about your body as possible.”

Elliot’s own personal health journey has not been without its challenges. A degenerative disc in his lower back has led to severe and daily back pain for as long as he can remember. Having avoided surgery, he’s learnt as much as he can to help manage the pain and maintain his active lifestyle. He also has arthritis (inflammation of the joints), which is particularly bad in his right knee.

HANA Founder Sara Higgins reached out to Elliot after learning of his ongoing pain. She suggested that he trial two light beds per week, along with infrared saunas, for a month.

While these challenges are a work in progress,  Elliot  said  results were instantly felt for his aches and pains. “I’m waking up with less stiffness in my affected knee most mornings,” he says, “which is really exciting.”

There have been many clinical studies showing the effectiveness of red light therapy on inflammation in the body — including arthritis — with virtually no reported side effects. 

Hana’s MitoGen whole body light pod combines 660nm red and 850 nm near infrared wavelengths to penetrate through the skin, producing a chemical reaction in the mitochondria of the cells to boost energy production and regeneration.

While arthritis is a chronic condition, Elliot says he’s delighted there has been some noticeable progress in his knee’s pain and mobility from the red light therapy pod.

He continues: “Infrared saunas have also always helped with my inflammation, and relaxing the muscles that overcompensate for my joints, so I always try to sneak in a couple each week.”

Feeling relaxed in the Hana space, he reports feeling rejuvenated, revitalised and nourished after each session, taking a much-needed moment of quiet for himself away from his hectic schedule. He’ll definitely be continuing use of the red light therapy pod, he says, given the progress he’s seen so far.

Additionally to the infrared and red light therapy treatments, Elliot seeks out stillness and gentle movement to counteract high intensity work-outs — trying to meditate every other day. He also loves mobility work like stretching and yoga, and encourages everyone to add these to their routine for the longevity of their bodies.

A key lesson Elliot has learnt throughout his health journey is that data and knowledge are crucial. “Be experimental and cast your web wide to gain as much information about your body as possible, so you can lead a healthier lifestyle. Be curious, and know that it takes time and effort to find what works for you personally.”

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