Meet Zen Buddhist, Mark Westmoquette

I am really excited to introduce you to Zen Buddhist and mindfulness teacher, Mark Westmoquette of Your Universe Yoga. Mark is a London based Zen yoga and mindfulness teacher. To tie in with the up-coming launch of our new E-Book, Your Healthiest Life Guide, Mark gives us an insight into his approach to mindfulness and all things meditation.

Meet Mark

Mark, What does wellbeing mean to you?

To me it starts with the physical aspects – sleep, diet, exercise, physical health, material comfort – and continues on to include our mental and emotional state, the state of our relationships and our sense of connection and love, and, of course, the situation in our work life. 

How physically healthy we are is measurable, but many of the other aspects are not so easy to assess. The problem is we often measure wellbeing via what some call the “eight worldly concerns": loss & gain, pleasure & pain, praise & blame, fame & bad name. These are all about external attributes: power, success, beauty, strength, intellect, opinion of others, etc.

However, this always leads to problems because what we’ve got or what we’ve achieved never seems enough. In my opinion, wellbeing is better measured through our sense of vitality and purpose in our lives, through our ability to be aware of how things are in the moment, how good we are at putting aside our judgmental attitudes, our kindness and willingness to help, and our resilience to difficulty.


What led you to your interest in holistic wellbeing, meditation in particular?

I was an avid target rifle shooter in my early years at university, and one of the books I read recommended yoga to help with fitness, flexibility and breath control. So I did! I started going to the class at the university gym and somehow ended up back there every week. Some years later, the teacher changed and the new person turned out to be Zen master Daizan Skinner. He was starting a meditation class so I went along. For me, studying science, yoga and meditation were like doing an experiment inside my body: try this practice and see what happens... whatever you find is your answer. 


Tell us about the style of meditation and mindfulness that you practice and, why it's a big part of your life...

It took me about 6 months of attending meditation classes with Daizan before I realised that what he was teaching was Zen! He never really said and there were no formalities in those early days. Zen is a school of Buddhism and emphasises the experiential practice of finding, for yourself, your true nature. Much of that enquiry is done through quiet, still meditation, but Daizan’s flavour of Zen also includes a number of movement practices too. In all of these, there is a strong thread of mindfulness – cultivating your attention and awareness of the moment with a quality of kindness and non-judge mentality.

Over the years I’ve found that mindfulness has enabled me to re-connect deeply to the reality of life, encouraging me to experience negative and difficult emotions without impulsively wanting to push them away, and allowing me to experience the delight and wonder of life as it comes and goes. It’s not easy, but the results are absolutely worth it.


We know that like us, you're interested in helping people change their emotional relationship with food through mindfulness, can you tell us a little about this?

It’s not really the food that’s the problem – everything is ok in moderation – but it’s our relationship to it that can cause problems. Personally I’ve never had any major eating disorders or issues – in fact I’d say I’m a fairly good instinctive eater – but I’ve seen how our relationship to food can cause so much suffering. I feel it’s an area that's extremely worth-while to explore. Taking a mundane example, but one I think most of us can relate to: I often find myself having lunch in front of my computer, writing e-mails or reading the news. All that effort I put into making (or buying) a nice lunch goes wasted because I didn’t notice any more than a bite or two. I was completely absorbed in my computer to the point that sensations were blocked out. I myself have a tendency not to eat enough in these situations, but others may eat too much – all because we fail to take notice of what we’re doing. Not only do we fall into the trap of mindlessly eating, forgetting to notice when we’re full or satisfied, but we also miss out on the enjoyment and taste of the food itself.

Mindfulness teaches us how to be fully present with our bodies, our sensations, thoughts and actions. When we listen, we can discern when we’re hungry, where our hunger is coming from, what our bodies need, and when we’re satiated. Like this we can learn how to be at peace with our food so that eating can become enjoyable, satisfying and nourishing.

What are your non-negotiables when it comes to everyday health?

A good night’s sleep, 30mins sitting meditation per day (minimum), ideally 20-30mins movement practice (like yoga) per day, good quality vegetarian food including a solid breakfast of muesli and fruit.

What have been the biggest lessons you've learnt since starting a meditation practice over 8 years ago?

Facing the reality of your inner landscape every day for years takes discipline and commitment. I remind myself regularly, though, that what I’m making is a commitment to myself and my wellbeing, so well worth it!

I’ve also found that whenever I recognise thoughts arising around comparing myself to others then I need to stop and look at what’s going on. Comparisons usually come up because of anxiety or insecurity, and these arise because we see ourselves as separate to everything around us. Yes, in one sense we are separate (obviously I am not you), but when I start worrying about myself I’m forgetting there’s another way to see things: that we’re all just expressions of one Universe and you’re about as separate to me as my right hand is from the left. When I remember that, the comparisons naturally fall away.

And finally, if you could give one piece of advice to anyone wanting to take up a regular mindfulness practice, what would it be?

Go on an 8-week mindfulness course. They’re designed specifically to get your engine started. I run courses, and there are many other excellent courses out there, so go for it!

Mark is running a Mindful Eating retreat day on 28 January in Brixton. Find out all the details here.


Survive New Year's Day & Spring Back to Health

You're just emerging after last night's New Years antics, wondering if you'll ever feel the same again. You swore it was all worth it last night, but hate yourself a little bit right now. Ah yes, the hangover. Chances are, if you're reading this, you probably don't have the brain function to read a whole page of words right now. So I"ll cut to the chase.  Here you'll find five tips for getting over your hangover as smoothly as possible, so you can attempt to enjoy the first day of the new year. 

Common symptoms of a hangover include headache, fatigue, nausea and dehydration - Yeah, right. Dehydration is often one of the main causes for your heavy head. Alcohol is a diuretic, which halts the production of the body's anti-diuretic hormones. This means can't absorb as much water as usual, causing us to become dehydrated as we lose more fluid than we can take on.

First thing's first...

1. Warm Lemon Water - On emerging, drink a glass of warm water with half a squeezed lemon. Alcohol is acidic, which inhibits the body's ability to absorb minerals and other nutrients. It also decreases its ability to repair damaged cells. Lemon has a neutralising effect on the body, which will bring it back into balance, whilst the warm water will hydrate and soothe your digestive system. If you don't have a lemon in the house, then a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in warm water will have a similar effect. 

2. Brunch - Let's face it, breakfast is probably a thing of the past today. So, rather than frying up an unhealthy, processed feast, get yourself a healthy source of protein. Eggs are ideal, as they're not too troublesome to make, and contain cysteine, an amino acid that helps break down acetaldehyde, an alcohol-induced toxin. So, an omelette may just the be the saviour you're after. 

3. Get Your Juice On - Tomato juice is packed with antioxidants, electrolytes, and the fluid you need to help your body repair.  You might not feel like nagging on a floret of broccoli just now, but juice some of the good stuff and you'll be packing a punch, replacing lost vitamins and minerals. Try juicing celery, pear, cucumber and spinach, adding a sprinkle of turmeric to fight inflammation.

4. Rest up and Take Care – Perhaps the most important thing you can do today. Don’t over exert your body the day after heavy drinking. It's likely you aren't loving yourself right now, and would like to think you'll make it to the gym this evening to even out last night's antics or bring in the new year as you mean to continue, but do be kind on yourself. Gentle exercise such as brisk walking will get the blood flowing, but depending on how bad you're feeling, just go steady and listen to your body. If all you feel up to today is resting, then let it rest, and most importantly, be ok with that.

5. Water, Water, Water - Stay hydrated throughout the day. Boring, I know, but try to sip water throughout the day to replenish lost fluids, and give your body's healing efforts a helping hand.

And finally, be kind to yourself and look after that little body of yours today, it deserves some care and attention after a night of indulgence. Also try not to feel bad. It's done, it's in the past and it was New Year. Don't dwell on what was, but look forward into the new year with a fresh set of eyes.

Wishing you a happy, healthy 2016 filled with love, fun and adventure!

Like this? Win a copy of our brand new E-Book, Your Healthiest Life Guide, launching 14 Jan 2016. Pop over your email address here, to be one of five lucky winners. YHLG Will be available to buy on Amazon Kindle from 14.01.16.

Avoid These 10 Weight Loss Blunders

‘’Weight loss is fuelled by a simple equation of eating fewer calories than you burn’’, right? Wrong! This is absolutely not true. It’s something I see written about time and time again and it drives me wild.

Let’s say you’re living a stress free life, eating the right types of foods, are well hydrated and exercising in a way that’s good for your body. In this case, yes, it may be a simpler equation for you. But for most of us mere mortals, there is so much more to losing weight (and most importantly being healthy), than simply calorie counting.

It’s usually a symptom or outward niggle that prompts us to look at our health more closely. Excess weight often leads to other negative symptoms that manifest in the body, and can wreak havoc on the mind too. Chronic tiredness perhaps, wild hormones sending your mood out of whack, bad skin and painful periods. The list is endless. It’s no wonder then that when we want to look and feel better, we first look at losing excess weight.

The topic of weight loss is huge. It’s a multi-billion pound industry, and also sadly one that uses misleading marketing tactics. Tactics that lead us to believe that quick weight loss is achievable with very little effort. If you’ve ever been on a fad diet, you’ll know how ridiculous this is.

The short fact is, that there is no healthy ‘quick-fix’ with long-term results when it comes to weight loss. It’s just one piece of the health puzzle that should be seen as just that. When approached as a long-term health goal, consisting of good nutrition in abundance, the right amount of exercise and adequate rest, you're onto a winner.


To get you started, I’ve listed my top ten blunders that I see time and time again. Avoid falling into these traps if you want to achieve a leaner bod and healthier mind for life.  

1.     Avoiding all fat in the diet - My recent blog post explains all

2.     Over-exercising. This sends cortisol levels sky high making the body hold onto excess fat rather than burning it.

3.     High stress levels

4.     Cutting out whole food groups such as carbohydrate - Learn more here

5.     Calorie counting

6.     Eating hidden sugars

7.     Considering exercise a licence to eat or drink more

8.     Drinking fruit juice

9.     Not getting adequate sleep or rest

10.   Drinking excess alcohol


Why You Should Eat Fat to Lose Fat

We’ve all heard it a million times before, but the myth around fat making you fat isn’t going away any time soon, so there are a few things you should know...

The notion that fat makes you fat has dominated our culture for decades. This isn’t the case, but most of you already know that. Why is it then, that many of us still fear fat?

If you eat too many of the wrong kinds of fat, then yes, you may get fat. Yet we actually need good fats in our diet to keep us healthy, regulate our weight and boost brain function. It’s the sweeping assumption that all fats are bad that's so damaging. It leads us to fear any high-fat food, which is actually bad for our health.


Advances in nutrition have proven that we need good fats to maintain a healthy weight, and that the real problem is sugar.

Where did this all come from then? In the 1950’s, Doctor Ancel Keys conducted a study into the effects of consuming too much fat in the diet. He found that it contributed to heart disease at the time. Ever since, Western culture has been hooked on the idea that fat is bad and is to be avoided at all cost.  The low-fat alternatives lining the supermarket shelves cement this notion, making it a difficult myth to bust.

When the study was published, people started avoiding all fats like the plague – nuts, cheese, oils, creams, butter. The food industry had to plug this gap and find an alternative. And so, low-fat foods were born, filling our fridges for decades to come. With the removal of fat, these foods still had to taste nice if people were to buy them though, right? Introduce, sugar. These low-fat foods so many of us eat in an attempt to actually be healthier, are often sugar-laden, and much worse for you than their full-fat counterparts. The food industry tricks us into believing these foods are healthy, fuelling the problem further. Just take a look at the yoghurt you had on your ‘healthy, low-fat cereal this morning. Or the low fat crackers you ate at lunch. Chances are, they’re full of sugar, compensating for the removal of the fat.  

Fifty years on, studies started exposing the flaws in Keys’ study. We now know that naturally occurring fats are in fact good for you. Not only are they delicious, but when eaten on a regular basis they also significantly contribute to good health. Natural fats such as avocado, nuts, oils, seeds and oily fish some of the best natural sources of fat on earth.

Don’t be fooled though, not all fats are good. Generally speaking, natural sources of fat are the ones to go for. Artificial, processed fats, or trans fats, are to be avoided where possible. These fats go through a chemical process, and are altered from their natural state. Look out for the terms ‘trans-fats’, ‘hydrogenated’ or ‘partially hydrogenated fat/oil’ on food packaging. Trans-fats raise your ‘bad’ cholesterol, putting strain on your heart. These are also the fats that clog your arteries. Foods such as margarine, anything friend or battered, pie crust, cakes, ice cream, processed meat and ready-meals are all laden with trans fat. These should be avoided at all cost.

As a general rule, if you’re not sure whether something is a good or a bad fat, look out for the above terms on the packaging. If it’s been through any sort of chemical process, it’s probably worth avoiding. Try to eat foods that are as close to their natural state as possible. A potato for example, will always be a much better alternative to chips.

So, next time you’re browsing the supermarket isle for a low-fat variety of an otherwise natural food, opt-for the full-fat version and you’ll be well on your way to a healthier you.

Interested in learning more on how to become the healthiest version of you? Registration for our new Online Health Coaching Programme – Your Healthiest Life Guide is now live. We're offering 10% off for all those who sign up before 30.11.15. Sign-up here.

Macronutrients: The Basics

Macronutrients - You eat them every day.


1. The word sounds a bit sciencey, but the concept is actually pretty simple; Macronutrient describes a type of food we need in our diet in relatively large quantities, that provides us with calories.  

2. There are three main macronutrients the human body needs; protein, fat (otherwise known as lipids) and carbohydrate (a type of sugar).

3. The body needs the right balance of macronutrients for energy, growth, repair and optimal organ function.

4. We need different sources and quantities of each macronutrient in our diet for it to function at its best. Exactly how much will depend on how active you are as an individual, along with variants based on your unique make-up.

5. Carbohydrates - As we said are a type of sugar, and should make up around 45-60% of our diet. Carbohydrate is stored in the body and mainly used for fuel, but they are not all the same. Opt for slow-releasing, ‘whole’ carbs that have a low glycemic load (GL), or that are low on the glycemic index (GI). Low GI foods cause less of a dramatic spike in our insulin levels, meaning the body uses them at a slower rate than high GL counterparts.

6. Sources of slow releasing, energy-sustaining carbohydrates to include in your diet include: Dark leafy green vegetables, brown rice, nuts and beans.

7. Fat – This is often thought of as something to avoid like the plague, but the body actually needs around 20% of our diet to consist of good fats to function well. The word fat creates many negative thoughts, as we've almost been programmed to associate fat in the diet with fat in the body. There is a common misconception around this though, and actually without the right type of fat, your body won’t burn the stuff so effectively. The right kind of fats in the right quantities  will not make you fat - Get your head around that. Replace high-fat meat and sweets with good fats. This will ‘crowd out’ bad fats, meaning you’ll get more of those that are useful to the body. 

8. Sources of good fat to include in your diet are: Nuts, seeds, avocado, oily fish and olive oil.

9. Protein – This is the body’s main building block for repair. Unlike carbs and fat, it can’t be stored effectively in the body so it’s vital we get good quality sources from the foods we eat. Protein should make up 10-35% of our diet. It also aids in immune function, so next time you’re coming down with a cold, ensure you are getting enough protein in your diet.

10. Most of us think of meat as being the best source of protein. It’s by no means bad, but vary your options to include non-meat sources too. Good sources of protein to include in your diet are: Lean white meat such as turkey or chicken, beans, nuts, beans and lentils.

 11. And finally, try to incorporate all three macronutrients into each meal for a balanced, energy sustaining diet that will keep your body energised throughout the day. 

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Release Expectation & Set the Ego Free

Something I hear time and time again when chatting to people who are perhaps unsure of trying yoga, is ‘oh no, I’m not very good’, ‘I’m not very flexible’, ‘I don’t have the time’ – All reasons they use to explain, perhaps only to themselves why they wouldn’t be very good at it, regardless of the fact that yoga couldn’t be less about ‘being good’ if it tried. The thing that strikes me most though, is how people before even thinking, just openly berate themselves, believing that they’re just ‘not very good’ when it comes to starting new things, often holding themselves back from trying. Let’s just think about that for a moment. Telling yourself you’re not very good at something you might not even have tried, sets a state of judgement in your mind that says you’re not good enough, full stop. There is of course the fact that you really might not be very naturally talented at something, and that’s ok – But writing yourself off before you know – that’s something else.

Release Self Judgement

I know all about this - I was once guilty in a big way. When I first started yoga a few years back, I was a long-distance runner. If you have any experience of running, you’ll know this also means I was the most inflexible person probably on the whole entire planet, and competitive with it. Yoga for me was something I merely dabbled in. I knew it’d help improve my running and overall wellbeing, but I was also pretty certain that my tight runners body wouldn’t be any ‘good at’ it, and my competitive ego certainly wasn't happy about the idea of being a total beginner - the reason I held off getting serious about it for a long time. When I finally did start a regular practice, I was a beginner again, and actually it wasn’t so bad. Each time I landed on the mat I felt good, and then better the next day, and then even better the next time, until the point I didn’t think about whether I was good or bad or average at it – because I really didn’t care. All that mattered and still does, is turning up on the mat day after day, and just learning to be present and well, just be.

In our western culture, we’re taught from an early age about what it means to be successful in life – we’re taught that success is born from being good at things, but more often than not, this same success is measured by material or superficial ‘things’. Constantly surrounded by the need to be good all the time, we’re taught at school to always strive for better results, to get a promotion at work, to run our fastest 10k, to have a flashy car; but when was the last time you were told it was ok to just be? To be happy, be content, and simply just be you, without the worry or need to be better at something through fear of judgement. I agree of course that there is certainly a valid desire to be successful and strive for better things in life, whatever they may be for you - it’s within our makeup to do so, but what I’m also saying is that just once in a while, we should all take the time to sit back, take note, and be content with just simply being. And of course that’s what yoga teaches us, as it did and still does me – That actually it’s ok to be new at something, not to be the best, and to actually to enjoy the journey of watching yourself become, whilst just being.

So, next time you’re faced with trying something new, something you’re not so sure you’ll be good at, why don’t you give it a go, releasing all judgement of what might be, and just watching what is - You never know, you might just surprise yourself with how good it feels to just be.

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