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Performance: What we can learn from ancient cultures

Busy professionals can boost their performance using ancient wisdom from the healthiest, longest-living cultures on our planet. 

Former AFL player Mark Bunn, author of Ancient Wisdom and Modern Health, is fascinated by the way different communities live. After retiring as a professional footballer, he travelled through remote communities in Asia, where he saw healthy, happy people living simply. 

Then he returned to Australia and saw how people were stressed, overweight and suffering from illnesses like type 2 diabetes and heart disease. 

"That juxtaposition intrigued me," Mr Bunn told Wellness Daily. "I began studying Eastern medicine. Since then, I've been blending a bit of the East and West and integrating it into a modern lifestyle."

Keep it simple 

There is an abundance of information available to us in the Western world about how we should exercise and how often, what we should eat and what we should eliminate from out diet. 

But has any of this research actually improved our lives? Are we getting any healthier?

"There are eight or nine very well researched cultures that live to 80, 90 and 100-plus years of age with almost no incidence of heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes or osteoporosis. Do you know how much they know about good fats, bad fats, low carb diets and glycaemic index? Absolutely nothing," Mr Bunn said. 

"About 80 per cent of what we get told today by modern Western science is either completely wrong or it is so complicated, confusing and contradictory that it prevents us from performing the way we should."

Get spiritual 

One of the most profound characteristics of ancient cultures is their focus on the spirit — something we pay little attention to in the Western world. 

"In Western science, we start with the physical and then try to uncover deeper layers of the mind, senses and emotions," Mr Bunn said. 

"In Eastern wisdom, they start the other way around: they start with the central nature as a non-physical, spiritual body, a consciousness. They develop that first through meditation techniques and transcendence. Like watering the root of a tree, all the emotions, senses and physical health improve. It is about the emotions preceding physical health," he explained. 

In the West, we have a heavy focus on diet and exercise. So much so that it can lead to stress. Conversely, Mr Bunn said that in the East, health and happiness are a by-product of simply enjoying life with friends, family and the community.

Eat intelligent food

Dieting is very much a Western tradition. Some of the most popular diets over the years include the Atkins diet, Dukan diet, ketogenic diet, low-carb diets, high-protein diets and juice cleanses. 

None of these are adhered to by any of the healthiest, longest-living cultures on our planet, according to Mr Bunn. 

"But there are a few key themes. I call it eating intelligent food," he said. 

"In the West, the main way we have gotten off track is by processing our food. Carbohydrates, for example. Most long-living cultures have followed a high-carb diet of rices and breads and vegetables. The problem today is that we process the hell out of them so the body doesn't know what to do with them and presents all of these problems. 

"The key thing is wholefoods; eating as many wholefoods as possible and as much variety as possible. Freshness is also really important. 

"The second aspect is digestion. It is not actually the food that is most important, it's the digestion. Even in the last five years we are starting to hear more about gut health."

Improving performance 

As a professional speaker, Mr Bunn has worked with a number of major Australian corporates such as the Commonwealth Bank, Westpac, NAB and the Australian Institute of Management. 

One of the most common questions he gets asked by busy professionals is about time management: how do they integrate some of the ancient traditions into a modern lifestyle?

"It all comes down to performance cycles," he explained. 

"Traditionally in the Eastern cultures, they understood that there are four-hour cycles that govern the mind, body and emotions on a 24-hour basis. We have reached the limit of what we can fit into a work day or business calendar.

"In the East, there is a big focus on when we eat, when we sleep, when we exercise. That we ride these underlying cycles. The traditional understanding that breakfast must be the main meal of the day has never been adhered to by any of the longest-living healthiest cultures. Lunch has always been the main meal of the day.

"In the West, we work all day and then eat a big heavy meal at night. In the East, they understand that the body is slowing down so our digestive fire is going to sleep. When we eat a big dinner before bed, our resources are going to the stomach to try and digest the meal rather than to rejuvenate the body and eliminate stress.

"It's about managing our day better to ride these natural cycles."

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“Kindness is the language that the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” – Mark Twain