Simon Borg-Olivier MSc BAppSc (Physiotherapy) is a Co-Director of Yoga Synergy, one of Australia’s oldest and most respected yoga schools. The Yoga Synergy style is based on a deep understanding of yoga anatomy, yoga physiology and traditional Hatha Yoga. Simon has been teaching since 1982. He is a registered physiotherapist, a research scientist and a university lecturer. He has been a student of both Patthabi Jois and Iyengar. Simon has been regularly invited to teach at special workshops and conferences interstate and overseas since 1990. He is full of energy, radiates positivity and he has a wealth of knowledge of all aspects of yoga, the body and nutrition. I was lucky enough to meet Simon, his kids and their beautiful mother, Vitoria while our children were attending the same Montessori school in Bondi and immediately connected with them, due to our shared philosophies and love of yoga and nourishing food. Here is a short interview with Simon but I encourage you to check out his yoga school in Bondi or his blog that is overflowing with his incredible knowledge. To check it out click here .
Gemma: When and why did you you start eating a plant-based diet?
Simon: I became vegetarian in 1978 but in 1982 I was not well and actually collapsed while lecturing a Biology class. I realised that I had a crisis and had to focus on getting healthy and that just being vegetarian does not make you so. So I had to really look at what was going in and realised that some foods such as dairy foods were irritating me so I went vegan and had a lot less problems, such as my asthma disappeared. It still was not enough, so by 1983 I started eating lots of live foods, raw foods, sprouted foods and fermented foods and that made a huge difference. I also started including a range of fasting and detoxing regimes into my diet, which was incredibly beneficial.
Now I can happily say that I eat what ever I want, when ever I want and how ever much I want. However because of my lifestyle it just so happens that I choose mostly live and raw fruit and vegetables, maybe some steamed vegetables and occasionally some nuts but I do not eat cooked grains, tofu, fried foods or animal products.
Gemma: Why don't you eat grains?
Simon: Sometimes I will eat quinoa sprouted or steamed or sprouted mung beans or sprouted alfalfa seeds, but not cooked rice or wheat. This is because for me, they slow me down and put me back onto a sugar-based metabolism, which is very fluctuating in its energy and you tend to get more hungry quickly and my energy levels will fluctuate more.
Gemma: Do you follow any other diet philosophies?
Simon: I do not eat a lot. I am unusual because of my practice of pranayama. I have very powerful breathe techniques that allow me to have fairly constant energy with out getting hungry often. The less you breathe in and out the more you will build up carbon dioxide inside your body. Contrary to popular belief, carbonic dioxide and the carbonic acid it becomes in your blood, has many benefits inside the body such as calming the nervous system, increasing oxygen in the lungs and reduces the craving for heavy foods.
I believe that the best diet is the " Eat Less Diet" and to help achieve this its important to learn to breathe less. The most effective way to learn to comfortably eat less to increase health is as follows. Increase the proportion of alkalising food in your diet (such as fresh fruit and vegetables). At the same time compensate for the increased alkalinity by breathing less( hypo-ventilate) to increase the levels of carbon dioxide and carbonic acid in the body. In short if you breathe less while still being able to exercise and practice your yoga etc. (i.e. get physically fit – e.g. be able to exercise harder without panting and/or be able to do good pranayama – e.g. work towards being able to breathe less than one full breath per minute at rest). Then you will generally find you are just not that hungry, yet you are energised and so your desire and need to eat will be less and this is the ultimate way to lose weight and feel good.
Gemma: How does your vegan diet compliment the life of a yogi?
Simon: I live almost entirely on fruit and vegetables and so have many great yogis past and present. This is a really important factor that helps you have excellent health and allows you to do better yoga and exercise. This especially helps your ability to hold the breath for pranayama (breath-control exercises), kriyas (internal cleansing exercises) and mudras (energy-control exercises). Once breath-control is established concentration, relaxation and meditation are much more achievable.
Gemma: Do you extend your diet beliefs to raising your two children?
We aim to feed our children whole, unprocessed foods the majority of the time. In reality, once they have tasted sugar at other children's parties, it can become a little trickier and I have learnt to be a little more flexible on occasions. Vitoria is amazing with their diets, they eats lots of fresh vegetables and fruits and she makes them fresh nut milks. The children also eat eggs, nuts and grains. This is because their bodies are growing and developing and require different nutrients than adults. They are equipped with a broader range of enzymes to digest these. Now we home school the children ( in the beautiful hinterland in Byron Bay) we are able to have more control and make sure they are eating a good lunch as well, as it can sometimes become difficult in the school lunch box.
Gemma: What do you recommend for those who have not yet mastered yoga and pranayama as you have?
Simon: I suggest regular people should work towards the following regime:
- a diet of whole food
- no processed food
- emphasis on fresh fruit and vegetables
- emphasis on organic produce
- no deep fried foods
- emphasis (but not obligatory) on raw or living food
- fermented foods good to add (e.g. make your own sauerkraut or kimchi)
- super-foods good to add too (e.g. acai, raw cacao, bee pollen etc)
- emphasis but not obligatory on vegan or vegetarian (subject to individual responses)
- include healthy fats in the diet such as those from chia seeds, hemp seeds, and good virgin coconut oil and some some uncooked virgin olive oil
- use good quality salt (e.g. himalayan)
- try to observe some food combining rules - e.g. try not to mix high protein and high carb foods in the same meal
- try to eat less calories in general without forcing it
- exercise more
- breathe abdominally in everyday life
- chew your food a lot
- avoid bread if you can (especially processed bread)
- avoid milk if possible unless straight from a cow
Gemma: How does yoga cultivate compassion in your life?
Yoga enriches your life to be present in the moment by enhancing connections and consciousness. It has made me a better father and partner. I think yoga develops us to be better people and then we become in harmony with our surroundings and that helps us make the world a better place.