Irish model Alison Canavan is naturally radiant, bubbly and has boundless energy.
She first hit the catwalk at the age of 15 and has lived and worked all over the world including London, Paris, Germany, New York, Australia and South Africa.
To observers, her life might seem carefree and glamorous but it hasn’t always been easy for the single mother-of-one who struggled with her mental health and addiction for many years.
“Since becoming a mum to my eight-year-old son James I now try and love my best life for both of us,” she tells Relax Ya Self To Health. “I am a daily meditator and consciously practise gratitude for all I have. I see the world differently these days and I love that every day I get the chance to make better choices and create the life I truly want to live.”
Here Alison, who is now a health coach, master NLP practitioner, mindfulness teacher and author of Minding Mum, opens up about her journey and shares the techniques that help her live a happy and balanced life every day.
How would you describe your personality in three words?
Strong, resilient and caring.
You have a great positive mindset. How did you develop this?
I’m a great believer in living your best life but my mindset wasn’t always that way. At 15 I entered the world of modelling and although it was an amazing experience for a young girl, I struggled with anxiety, depression and loneliness at times. That was 25 years ago and the world has changed a lot since then. Today we talk about mental health and we are making great strides towards bringing these issues to the surface for healing as a collective.
What’s your motto or mantra in life?
Every day is a chance to start again and change is possible for everyone
Why is it important to listen to your body and invest in yourself as a person?
Because the relationship you have with yourself is the longest and most secure you will have in this lifetime. Everyone else will come and go from your life including friends, family and children. So, my question is, does it not make sense to work on the most important relationship first and then the rest will follow?
What happens on a silent meditation retreat?
I have done many silent retreats as I am a mindfulness teacher and the experience is always profound. You go on a deep inner journey of excavation and discovery. If we want true peace and contentment in this life, I believe, we must show up and do the work within ourselves. The Vipassana retreats are done in noble silence which means, no eye contact, talking or even hand gestures. Having recovered from addictions and mental health problems using meditation as one of my tools, I’m acutely aware of the power of going within. In fact, I believe it’s the only way to really heal emotional pain and move into a life of freedom and peace.
What sort of emotions and unpleasant feelings arose?
As my retreat approached I felt anxious as I knew there was deep-rooted pain ready waiting to come to the surface given the right time and space to do so. I didn’t have to wait long as on the first day I reacted very physically to the practice and had to leave the room as I was going to both throw-up and pass out. As I sat outside – pale as a ghost – the course coordinator assured me that this was very a very normal reaction and that afternoon the teacher did too. As human beings, we all have pain and suffering it’s simply a part of life. However, we become very good at suppressing experiences and emotions and hope they won’t rise again and cause us any trouble. This is something I did for many years I pushed everything down and thought that I didn’t ever have to face it or deal with it again.
How did repressed emotions affect your wellbeing?
During the 20 years of depression, anxiety and addictions that followed I never connected my emotional pain to my problems and neither did anyone I went to see. Instead, I got handed tablets and hoped for the best. This is like cleaning the outside of your kitchen cupboards every single day so that when you have visitors your house appears to be gleaming, clean and bright. However, if someone were to open your cupboards the stark truth would shock them. Inside would be dirty and food would be rotting and this is what suppressed emotions look like in your body. They are giving off toxic fumes that manifest as emotional problems like over or under eating, depression, anxiety, stress, sleep issues, addictions and much more. We fail to connect the dots and we outsource our power to external sources hoping that they can fix us and heal our pain. My greatest learning from a week of Vipassana was that only you and you alone can heal your pain and there is no escaping the work if you want to get well or live better. You need to feel and deal with your pain to truly heal.
How can people start to heal?
There are many paths to do the work but if you feel called to meditate and feel you would benefit then I think it’s a very valuable thing to do. We live in a world that’s moving so fast so we really need to slow down and create some space so that we can see clearly where we are and where we want to go. Otherwise, we miss life as we are always either living in the past or the future.
What are you doing work-wise now?
Today I teach mindfulness meditation where I have been trained as a UCLA mindfulness facilitator from The Semel Institute of Neuroscience and Human Behaviour. I am also a health coach and a master NLP practitioner. I run a successful private practice as a health and wellness coach and deliver motivational talks on health and wellbeing, all over the world, specialising in mental health and addiction. In 2017 I created ‘The Full 360’, which is a full day event where people come and experience what real wellbeing means. It’s a day where you are encouraged to join the dots between body, mind, spirit, the environment you live in and we also look at your relationships to yourself and others. I am deeply passionate about looking at our wellbeing from a whole – istic perspective! We keep separating ourselves and treating different aspects of us separately which only leads to further disconnection on the inside and out.
Talk me through a typical day.
Every day is different for me which I love. I write for various newspapers, do TV and radio interviews, I teach and coach people. I also organise my events and travel quite frequently too. I’m blessed to have the support of a great mum as I’m a single mum myself. I wake early and meditate and then when James wakes we have breakfast. I live by the sea so I love walking him to school to get fresh air first thing in the morning. Then I usually return back to the office or go out to meetings. I try and pick up James when I can and we spend the afternoon doing homework and catching up. I teach meditation a few nights a week but from home which is wonderful.
How do you balance work and family life?
With great difficulty at times and with a lot of support and help. I have also been studying for the past few years which has been extremely challenging at times but I always knew I the back of my mind that I was doing it to create a better life for myself and my son. I try as much as I can to be off the phone around James and when I’m with him to actually be with him and not always distracted.
What tips do you have for busy mums?
I used to buy into the myth of having no time. We all do because we are taught that if we are busy and our kids have 10,000 activities that we are worthy and have a purpose. I became very ill this year on a trip to London and it helped me to re-evaluate the busyness epidemic. I have met a mum of 11 who is not stressed at all! Sometimes we put so much pressure on ourselves (at least I do) to be an amazing mum, employee, friend etc but what I have found is that if we let go of expectations and start to actually become more present and enjoy life, things get easier. Everyone has some time they can take for themselves even if its 60 seconds three times a day to stop, breathe and be. It’s so important to show up for yourself because you can’t authentically do it for your family otherwise. A happy mum = a happy family. Be easy with yourself as a mum and know that you are doing your best and that’s all we can do in this life. The most important part is to have fun along the way.
How do you manage stress?
Through meditation, exercise, eating great food and connecting with those I love. Every day is different but every day I do all of these things!
What stress warning signs have you learned to recognise over the years?
When I start to crave bad food and feel sad, when I’m not sleeping great and not able to concentrate. Through the practice of mindfulness, we learn to accept things as they are and this gives us the ability to be with whatever is happening for us at that moment.
Are you able to share some of your stress-busting tips?
Stress is basically wanting to be there when you are here. Use your breath. Meditation is such an important gift in my daily life and when I start my day from a conscious perspective I can handle anything that comes my way. Eat well as sugary and processed foods contribute to stress and anxiety. Eat lots of colourful and fresh seasonal produce and cook at home as often as possible. Move your body. Most of us are far too sedentary and need to move more. Getting outside and connecting with nature helps us to remember who we really are. Get back to the community – studies show us that people who have the best connections and relationships are the happiest and live the longest. We come into the world wired to make connections with one another and the very foundation of our sense of self is built upon human interactions, presence and in-person exchanges.
What’s your idea of a dream holiday?
Travelling is one of my great loves and I love active holidays and also relaxation trips. Travelling with my eight-year-old is also fun and we love city travels and plan to go on a safari soon!
Are you an ‘overthinker’ or laid back?
I’m a mixture. From years of mindfulness practice, I have become less reactive to life but I’m also an ideas person and I can drive myself mad going over and over ideas in my head.
How has your attitude to life changed over the years?
My life has very little similarities. Back then I was a party girl enjoying the high life of the fashion industry which you soon learn is not all it cracked up to be. Our lifestyle is a choice, which is something I was completely unaware off years ago. Today I choose to live consciously and very differently. I eat healthy, exercise and meditate alongside valuing those around me and honouring my environment and nature. Today I am content and can really feel the richness life offers when we choose to wake up. I believe that we are learning till the day we die so I try to remain open and curious and willing to learn.
What does your diet look like?
My diet is pretty good. I try and avoid processed food and eat a lot of plant-based meals, with a large variety of colour. Food is information for our body, mind and soul so it’s important we don’t give it the wrong fuel or it will get sick and we will create a dis-ease within ourselves and our body. I love juicing, wheatgrass and soups, stews and herbal teas.
What are your favourite exercises?
I love yoga, Pilates and walking. Movement is really important to me and there is nothing better than getting out and connecting with nature.
What are your three top tips for finding balance in your life?
Top and tail your day with gratitude and start your day by connecting with yourself and setting an intention for your day. Be present when in the presence of others. Let go of any stresses and strains before you go to bed as the energy you go to sleep in is the energy you wake up in. Get between seven and nine hours sleep a night for optimal health.
What’s been the most important life lesson you’ve learned to date?
To trust my own instinct and live from the heart
Alison runs a monthly membership programme for those interested in mindfulness where she holds online live meditations and coaching calls among other things. For more information click here.
If you enjoyed this article you might like to read our other celebrity health and wellbeing interviews with Jonny Wilkinson, Pat Cash, Katie Piper, Gail Porter, Ryan Sidebottom and Andy Murray’s fitness coach Matt Little.