Joe Wicks: ‘Meditation helped me understand my childhood better – and made me a more patient father’

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Joe Wicks - Lululemon
Joe Wicks - Lululemon

From the outside, 34-year-old Joe Wicks has a seemingly perfect life. The original YouTube trainer, turned best-selling author, turned national hero (thanks to his hugely successful PE With Joe workouts in lockdown, profits of which he donated to the NHS), he lives in a Surrey mansion with his wife Rosie, a former model, and their children, India and Marley. Yet Wicks has never shied away from talking honestly about the less than perfect parts of his life too.

He’s currently filming a documentary for BBC One all about understanding his childhood and how it affected his own mental health. For Wicks, who grew up on a Surrey council estate, life was very different – where he grew up watching his father struggle with drug addiction and his mother with OCD.

“I didn't really know that my mum or dad had mental health issues when I was growing up. I just thought my dad was a drug addict and my mum liked cleaning. It's only now I understand that they went through trauma,” says Wicks.

“That trauma manifested in my dad self-medicating with drugs and my mum scrubbing and cleaning the house all day long. She’d be constantly cleaning out cupboards or hoovering. I’d come back from school and my room would be completely different. She’d also have weeks where she wouldn't eat – which, now, I understand that she was struggling with a really bad eating disorder.”

Despite his unwavering enthusiasm and chirpiness during his workouts, Wicks has also spoken out during lockdown about the times he feels down. “I’m only human, so it’s important to be honest about my energy levels, my mood, the food I eat – my mental health is OK, but during lockdown I struggled. I just felt it was never-ending,” he tells me. “Thinking about everyone struggling, losing their jobs and not going out to see their families – it really got me down.

“I have days where I'm up and down. Days where I'm really positive – I'm exercising and eating great food. And other days where I just want to eat junk food, go to bed and not talk to anybody. The most recent thing that's affected my mental health is the racism after the Euro 2020 final. It's got me in such a foul mood and put me in such a negative headspace, which I’m really trying to break and snap out of.”

Joe’s upbringing has clearly impacted his perspective and understanding of self-care and mental health, and for him exercise was his therapy.

“PE, sport, running around a million miles an hour, it was a way of dealing with how I was feeling at home,” he says. “I've been using exercise as therapy, probably since I was as young as five. When I realised I got a lot of joy from sport, that’s where I put my energy.”

Like a lot of people who are constantly on the go, for a long time meditation was something Joe dismissed as “not for me”.

“I've always moved around at 100 miles an hour. Meditation was something recommended to me, but I've always been too busy – my mind has been too busy. I didn't want to just sit down and stare at a wall.”

Many of us can relate to this. Sitting quietly, eyes closed, trying to quieten your thoughts can feel almost impossible. But the very best time to meditate is when you think you can’t, says Joe.

It was Russell Brand that first got him into meditation. “During lockdown, he said: ‘Joe, you sound like a man who needs to meditate. I feel like your brain could really do with this.’ He sent me a 20 minute guided meditation YouTube video and I had this really beautiful profound experience.”

The meditation asked him to think of something he’s really grateful for. “I suddenly had all these thoughts that I’d never thought about before. It unlocked something in my brain,” he says.

“I thought about how my dad could have overdosed at any moment when I was a kid, and I just felt so grateful that my dad is alive and that I can talk to him and he's a survivor. I've always thought as a drug addict you're a junkie. But after this meditation on gratitude, I realised that he actually survived a heroin addiction, which is really tough. He got through it. It’s something I've never thought about before, so I called my dad up afterwards and we just had this lovely conversation. I burst into tears on the phone with him. Just saying it out loud made me realise that I would never have rung him to tell him I'm so grateful that he’s alive, and thank you for being here, if it wasn’t for that guided meditation.”

Joe Wicks - Lululemon
Joe Wicks - Lululemon

His advice to beginners is do not expect too much to start with, just attempt a 10-minute practice where you sit quietly and concentrate on your breathing. Joe admits he struggles to be disciplined enough to do it every morning and recommends trying out the Headspace app “because it’s hard to meditate on your own”.

“It’s good to meditate at the start of the day because it will help you to rise above the noise of the day. I love it. I feel so much calmer and relaxed. I communicate with Rosie better and I’m more patient with the kids.”

Children can also benefit from the calming power of meditation practice, but make it into a game, he says. “At dinner, I always ask Indie ‘What are you grateful for today?’ and she'll say I'm grateful for my peas or I’m grateful for Marley's smile. Your kids really do pick up vibes, they learn from you, so I'm definitely trying to be the parent I wasn't parented by.”

Meditation, it seems, has more in common with exercise than Joe originally thought. “Like working out, mediation has a cumulative effect. You're going to have good practices and bad practices just like you have good and bad workouts. Consistency is what you need, just keep going if you can. You have to put the time in like you put the time in at the gym, and over time the effects will start to show, you really do get better at accepting the thoughts and slowing them down.”

As well as meditating, Joe suggests making time for “mental recovery” – such as getting out into nature.

“I think we just live in a world where we're constantly pushed to burnout. Sometimes you’ve got to slow things down – to focus on getting enough sleep, eating well, moving and just taking the time to be present in nature, to go to the beach or the forest and just reset your mind.”

In partnership with Lululemon, Joe Wicks has launched a new content series hosted on his YouTube channel, The Year That Changed Me, to celebrate his recent ambassadorship with Lululemon

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