Wellness guru James Duigan has forged a career out of doing what he loves. It’s been a decade since the Bodyism founder and celebrity trainer began spreading his Clean & Lean philosophy.
But it hasn’t always been plain-sailing for the father of two, who counts the likes of Elle Macpherson, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, and Lara Stone, among his advocates.
The Australian knows what it’s like to be homeless. And he “threw up every day for six months” after enduring the heartache of watching his father pass away in his arms.
Here, James tells Relax Ya Self To Health how he copes with stress and how there are lessons to be learned in every situation.
JAMES, YOU ALWAYS APPEAR SO LAID BACK. WHAT’S YOUR SECRET?
Haha. I’m not sure about that. I think I probably present a calm exterior. I’m shy by nature. I’m a human being after all so I do suffer from worry and I get anxious every now and then.
HOW DO YOU COPE WITH STRESS?
I’ve found that having a calm exterior is a great way of massaging yourself into a calm interior. My default reaction to things is to take a breath, maintain a calm face and understand that drama in a situation doesn’t help ever. This helps keep things in perspective. I’m lucky, it’s kind of my default setting. Any time I’ve ever given in to worry, overreacted or lost my temper, it’s never worked that well. There’s a great saying that goes: ‘My life has been full of disasters and calamities, most of which never happened.’
WHAT’S BEEN THE MOST FRIGHTENING MOMENT IN YOUR LIFE?
I’ve been homeless, afraid and hungry. When I first got to London at the age of 21 I had 50 dollars and a sleeping bag. With hindsight, it wasn’t the greatest of plans. For two months I slept in bus stations, on night buses and searched bins for food. I was lucky though, I was just having a tough time. I wasn’t suffering from a mental illness and was able to pull myself out of it. One day I scraped together some money to buy a suit that smelled like garbage from a second-hand shop. I put cardboard in the bottom of some old shoes that I found and went for a job interview at Harrods. I got the job. It was so good to get that first pay cheque. Now, whenever I’m in a difficult situation I think at least I have a roof over my head.
AND THE MOST STRESSFUL?
My dad passing away from lung cancer. He died in my arms and there was no way for me to make that OK or find anything good about it at all. I felt a huge amount of shame and guilt that I couldn’t save him, so dealing with that and letting it go was a big thing. I threw up every morning for six months. I just got up and did that. I was devastated by grief. At the same time, I found out that a friend had been stealing from me. I felt betrayed humiliated and stupid.
HOW DID YOU GET THROUGH THAT PERIOD?
It’s a bit of a blur but I remembered the things that I’d say to other people. Be kind to yourself and let go of shame. I used them as mantras. I kept it simple. I exercised every day, and didn’t fall into abusive eating patterns, or numb myself with any drug. I thought hold steady, do these things because you know they’re good. That’s all I knew. A couple of years later, I found a lesson and gift in losing my dad. It made me become so much more present with my own children and so much more grateful for every moment I’ve got in the world. It made me more committed and aware of my own health. It’s given me a really powerful ‘why’ and reason to stay healthy.
YOUR BODYISM EMPIRE IS EXPANDING AT AN ASTONISHING RATE. SURELY, THIS CAN BE STRESSFUL AT TIMES?
Stress is a fact of life now. Unless we can all retire, go live on a hill and go play guitar to each other we’re gonna have jobs, we’re gonna have kids, we’re gonna have things that stress us out. For me, it’s less about avoiding stress and more about coping, dealing with it and having strategies to help. I eat foods that really make me feel good and work for me rather than foods that are addictive and poisons as this makes me so much better able to deal with stuff. I don’t numb myself with alcohol or drugs. I’m much more present to things. It’s all simple stuff. It’s funny when people question it and ask ‘Isn’t it boring without alcohol?’ I’m like, ‘Holy s*** you just don’t get it. The world’s amazing. Why would you numb yourself to it?’ Boring is having to have a drink in order to loosen up.
HOW DO YOU UNWIND?
I exercise every day. Movement is medicine. I do yoga or lift weights. If I’m by the ocean, I’ll go for a swim or surf. The sea calms me down. When I’m in London I’ll go for a walk in the park. I also spend an hour and a half each week doing Brazilian jiu-jitsu with people who try to choke me [laughing] but it keeps me completely present because while that’s happening I just can’t think about anything else. So it’s like meditation. It’s so liberating for me.
DESCRIBE YOUR ULTIMATE BLISSED OUT DAY?
I’m grateful for every day, I genuinely am. My absolute happiest moments are with my children. They take me to a place I didn’t know existed, I just love being with them but then I get so much joy from what I do for work. That comes to this place that I create where people are treated well and happy. My job is to help people, I can’t imagine anything better. This is a dream.
WHAT IS BODYISM?
Bodyism the idea that we can change people’s lives and remind them to be kind to themselves. We nourish them through movement, through food, through how they think, and through what they say. It’s beautiful and it’s growing wonderfully. We’ve got our beautiful flagship studio in Notting Hill, London and a number of others including the Maldives. We’ve already started building Miami. It’s amazing, an absolutely breathtaking dream come true.
FINALLY, ARE THERE ANY BOOKS THAT HAVE CHANGED YOUR LIFE?
As a kid, I read a book called The Celestine Prophecy. It spoke about the energy in the world that we don’t see and it really opened my eyes that there might be more than what we just see and feel. I loved that book. Another author who interests me is Louise Hay. She talks about physical things that might have an emotional or spiritual cause. Simon Sinek, is a fantastic guy and brilliant speaker who explains how you’ve got to focus on why you do what you do. It’s transformative and inspirational for me.