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Meditation during difficult times
Giovanni Dienstmann: Meditation teacher and author
BY PETER BOWES | NOVEMBER 5, 2020 | 23:45 PT
Matters of the mind may be more important to us now, than ever before. The number of new coronavirus cases is continuing to rise in many countries. The United States – as well as dealing with political uncertainty – is reporting over 100,000 infections every day and England has just gone back into lockdown. There are encouraging exceptions, like Australia, which, earlier this week, recorded its first day without local cases in almost five months. But our lives have been upended like never before, and as we continue to battle the virus, the pandemic brings into focus our overall health and wellbeing.
“When there’s a huge event like Covid, it’s a forced pause for all of us,” says Giovanni Dienstmann, a Sydney-based meditation teacher and creator of the blog, Live and Dare.
Is it time to re-think the way we live our lives and contemplate the future?
“Perhaps start a different life, perhaps start to focus more on family, on personal growth, on health and longevity and on service.”
In this episode, we explore the power of meditation to get us through these difficult days. Giovanni also discusses his personal journey, from troubled child to a place of contentment – along with his regimented lifestyle, encompassing meditation, work, exercise, one daily meal, stoicism and family.
- This episode is brought to you by AgeUp, a new product that helps fill in the financial gaps that are often created once you’ve mastered aging and achieved an exceptionally long life. Small monthly payments to AgeUp stack over time to create a secure income stream for your 90s and beyond. Contributions to AgeUp are shielded from market swings, and once payouts begin at age 91 or above, they’re guaranteed to last for life. AgeUp is backed by MassMutual and sold by Haven Life Insurance Agency. You can find out more at Age-Up.com
NOTES & QUOTES
Connect with Giovanni: Live and Dare | Bio | Facebook | LinkedIn | YouTube | Twitter | Interview transcript
Interview recorded: August 27, 2020
In this interview we cover:
- Nurturing the mind as well as the body
- Mastering the aspects of our lives that we can control
- The impact of Covid 19 on the demand for meditation
“We are forced to sit with ourselves and to look at things that we have been running away from. Perhaps it’s shadows in our past, perhaps it’s decisions we have made, or things inside of us that we know need to change but have been avoiding.”
- Giovanni’s story: from troubled child to a place of restfulness.
- Almost becoming a monk at 19
- Is spirituality religious?
- Classifying meditation into different disciplines: Concentration, awareness, relaxation and standby mode
- Developing the muscle of concentration
- Shutting out the modern day distractions in life and developing self-discipline
“I look at self-discipline as the core of all virtues. With that power we can develop any other skill we need, any other virtue we need.”
- Giovanni’s constantly evolving and adapting daily schedule
- Practicing biphasic sleep – splitting sleep into to blocks per day
- The importance of routines in daily life
- Eating just one meal a day.
- Starting the day with a cold shower followed by meditation
“I have never felt worse after a cold shower. More alive, more awake, more energetic
- Embracing intermittent fasting for longevity and wellbeing
- Living by a stoic philosophy and letting go of what you cannot control
- Putting life in perspective during the pandemic
The Live Long and Master Aging podcast shares ideas but does not offer medical advice. If you have health concerns of any kind, or you are considering adopting a new diet or exercise regime, you should consult your doctor.
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:00:00] When there’s a huge event like covid, it’s a forced pause for all of us and some people are going to ask themselves the right questions and perhaps create a different life, perhaps start to focus more on family, on personal growth, on health and longevity and on service.
Peter Bowes: [00:00:18] Hello again, and welcome to the Live Long and Master Aging podcast. I hope you doing well. I’m Peter Bowes. This is where we explore the science and stories behind human longevity. This episode is brought to you by AgeUp a new financial product that provides guaranteed supplemental income for people who worry about the financial impact of longevity. To find out more, visit Age-Up.com. that’s Age-Up.com Now I often talk about what I see as the three broad pillars of longevity being diet, exercise and Mutter’s of the mind. Whether you call it mindfulness, spirituality, conscious awareness, there are many different variations on a similar theme. You might meditate, practice yoga, go for a long, slow walk, get a massage, go to bed early, get out of bed early and read a book. There are so many different ways that we can relax, turn off from the day’s activities, stresses and worries and enjoy a bit of me time. Well, today we’re going to focus on one aspect of this, although I think much of what I’ve just described can be connected. We’re going to focus on meditation with my guest, Giovanni Dienstmann. Giovanni is a meditation teacher, coach, author and speaker based in Sydney in Australia. He’s also the creator of the meditation blog Live and Dare. Giovanni, great to talk to you.
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:01:43] Thank you, Peter, it’s a pleasure to be here.
Peter Bowes: [00:01:44] Well, it’s really good to talk to you. And I mentioned the name of your blog, there – your Business Live and Dare which also has a subtitle, Master Your Mind Master of Your Life, which I think for me encapsulates really what I was just describing, that mastering the mind is just as important, isn’t it, as thinking about our diet and exercise?
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:02:03] Yeah, I like to think of the mind as, you know, the most important element, because for you to do regular physical exercise, for you to follow a diet, for you to make good decisions in your life, you need to have your mind in the right place. If you are being carried away by negative feelings and difficult emotions such as anxiety, depression and shame, you are unlikely to be able to live a life that is fulfilling, happy and long. So mastering the mind is indeed the first step for us to master our life, because there are many things in our life that we cannot control. We cannot control the weather. We cannot control what other people think of us. We cannot control our genes and we can definitely not control the pandemic, but we can control our thoughts, the stories we tell ourselves and our emotions, our mental states. And focusing on that is good enough.
Peter Bowes: [00:03:03] And I often when we’re talking about these issues, I often, quote, sleep as being something that I have to get right before I can do anything else in the day, that it is a dominating factor in much the same way as you describe as matters of the mind that you have to focus on and get that right before you can forge ahead with other aspects of your life.
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:03:27] Yes, sleep is. Is very important, even even for meditation. I find that I can sleep two hours less in a day and still be feeling well and productive, but my meditation practice will suffer. So sometimes the best way to meditate better is to just get half an hour of extra sleep. And meditation in its turn also help you to sleep more quickly and to sleep deeper by allowing you to to let go of all of those worries that keep you awake.
Peter Bowes: [00:03:59] So how did you get interested in this, let’s tell your story, how you started, and I’m curious and already talking to you, you have that very sort of calm, Zen-like demeanor. If you want to use that expression. Have you always been like this?
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:04:13] Not at all, not at all. I had severe anger issues when I was a kid, I was a very restless child. I was I don’t know why I was seeking for something. I was restless inside. I was not happy. And at the same time, I developed this interest in the spiritual things. So I started reading books about spirituality and philosophy, etc. until one day there was a workshop on meditation being held in my city and I decided to join and check it out. And it was just one hour workshop. And during that workshop run by a group called Brahma Kumaris, they they ran maybe a five or ten minutes guided meditation. And that experience was very special for me because for the first time in my life, I found myself in a place where everything is well. I was happy under my own skin. I had nothing to run after, nothing to run away from, no anxiety, just happy and well and deeply restful in the present moment. And I had never experienced that anywhere else in my life. So at the end of the workshop, I told myself, OK, for the rest of my life I’m going to practice meditation daily.
Peter Bowes: [00:05:32] And just going back to how you were as as a young boy, as an early teenager, you say you were angry or restless, hyperactive, that monkey mind that so many people often talk about, what was it about life, do you think, that made you like that? Were you searching for something? Were you concerned about something? Wetr you frightened about something. Were you ever able to pinpoint why you were like that?
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:05:57] It’s hard for me to look back at that time and try to figure out how I was thinking and what was going on, I think perhaps it was something more in the body than in the mind. Like there was all of this energy in the body that was this sense of restlessness in the body. And there was also this this sense of, you know, not accepting anything. So if if a classmate to do something that I dislike, I would want to beat him up. I would get really angry, not like to that level. So, yeah, that’s what I remember. It feels like a completely different life for me.
Peter Bowes: [00:06:29] And when you discovered mindfulness and you discover that peace of mind that you could acquire if you worked on it, once you worked on it, how quickly did you realize that you wanted to make this a bigger part of your life?
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:06:42] So it was a gradual process, the interest grew little by little. I was reading books on this topic voraciously. I was trying different styles of meditation. I went and sat two different meditation teachers, monks, yogis, Zen masters, etc. and I was drinking from many sources. Little by little. I figured out what what I wanted. But what was clear from me from the beginning is that the sense of contentment and peace and well-being that I derive from these activities was superior than anything else in my life. And I had the objective of speaking a good life. And I think things are good. But the well-being and happiness that I got from from meditation and these type of exercises were like at another level.
Peter Bowes: [00:07:28] And at one point, you considered diving much deeper into this, you considered becoming a monk, didn’t you?
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:07:35] That’s right. I was 19 years old, I had been practicing Zen Buddhism for about three years with a Japanese Zen master that was living in my city. And I just I felt one day after a retreat, I felt like, you know, this feels so right. This feels so good. Why don’t I dedicate the rest of my life to deepening this? Like, what else would I be missing if I do that? And there was just the sense that the well-being and sense of purpose that came from meditation and from a spiritual search was was more engaging for me than than a life of family and work and pleasures. So that’s what was pulling me at that time.
Peter Bowes: [00:08:18] But ultimately, it didn’t. Why not?
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:08:21] That’s right, as is often the case for many people, I met the girl with whom I married and she was also very deeply interested in mindfulness and meditation and spirituality. So, again, I felt. Very strongly inside my heart that no, actually, this this is the path for me, so, yeah, as quickly and as absolutely as I had decided to move in, I decided to move out. But what didn’t change is that meditation continued to be like a core area of my life.
Peter Bowes: [00:08:57] And is meditation or maybe I should be saying spirituality, is it religious for you and does it necessarily have to be religious?
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:09:07] Now, this is a really good question and one that I think about often for me, religion and spirituality, they are two different things. Spirituality is this innate drive that we have to to seek something deeper – to seek a greater sense of context for our life. It’s this this invitation to look at life as being more than what we the information we get through the five senses and our consciousness as being more than a product of our brain. So there is this this this conviction or this this belief that that is there inside of you for some people. And then you go on a spiritual quest, you start reading different philosophies, you experiment different exercises, you start meditating. So that, for me, is a spiritual search for spirituality. It does not need to be religious. All religions started from spirituality. But then they became there was a lot of dogma and ritual and intermediaries that came as it became more of a social phenomena rather than a private search for meaning inside one’s being. So religion and spirituality are different things. You can you can be religious and not be spiritual. You’re just going through the motions and you can be spiritual but have no need to believe or follow any institutionalized religion.
Peter Bowes: [00:10:34] And the kind of meditation that you are trained in, there isn’t just one kind, they’re essentially or as far as you’re concerned, I believe, four different disciplines that you were trained in, that you’re expert in.
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:10:46] Yeah, so this is one of the different ways to classify meditation and making a parallel with physical exercise. You know, we can say that some some exercises are focused more on strength training. Others are, you know, cardio, others are more flexibility. And so we can say the same thing about meditation. Some styles of meditation are concentration based in which you are trying to keep one object of focus moment after moment in mind. And that could be a breath. That could be a sound such as a mantra, meditation. That could be something that you’re gazing at, like a candle flame, the candle flame meditation. I could be basically anything, even a thought or feeling. So that is the concentration type of meditation. Then there is the awareness type of meditation in which you are your attention, instead of being exclusive is inclusive. You become aware of whatever comes up in consciousness, be its sensations that you’re feeling, sounds that you’re hearing, memories that are coming up, images that your brain is producing, whatever comes up in consciousness, you become aware of it non-judgemental and without holding onto it. And this type of meditation is usually called mindfulness, the mindfulness meditation. And a third style of meditation is more relaxation based. So one very famous style of this type is Yoga Nidra, that your listeners may want to to have a look because it’s one of the best ways to fall asleep. Very quickly, I have recorded a 20 minute guided meditation, but you can find many free ones on YouTube. And what I hear from people again and again is that they never hear they never get to the end of the meditation. They always fall asleep in the middle. So that’s another style of meditation that is focused on relaxation. And then a fourth bucket would be it’s a little bit philosophical and hard to explain, but your attention is not focused on anything in particular. It’s neither inclusive nor exclusive. It’s just it’s just in standby mode, so to speak. So this would be the four big buckets or categories in which all the different styles of meditation fit into.
Peter Bowes: [00:13:01] And I think what a lot of people wonder, maybe people listening to this who haven’t explored meditation, just bearing in mind what you’ve just described, I think the perhaps hindering factor for some people is where do I start? It actually sounds quite complicated. I could go in this direction. Am I looking in? Am I looking out? All sorts of questions that are raised in their minds that might actually put some people off trying because they fear they fear it. They fear that they can’t master the art of meditation.
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:13:29] Yeah, and again, having a parallel parallel with sports is the same thng, like if you’re told that you need to exercise because it’s good for you, you know, there are hundreds of different sports like which one should you do? You don’t know. And you don’t have time to to try them all or diets. There’s so many different types of diets and so many people that follow one type. They are kind of religious about it. You know, this is the best way to eat. While the others would have a very different diet and have many apparent equally deep and philosophical and scientific reasons to say, no, this is actually the best way to eat. So we do find a little bit of that in the meditation arena where different teachers, different groups, they say that their style of meditation is the best or or the most suitable for the older person, etc.. What I found in my journey going through many styles is that there’s no best style of meditation. Now you have to try a few different styles and to find one that works for you. So that’s that’s part of my approach as a teacher is to help people experiment different styles. So, for instance, someone who is very auditory by nature, they may not enjoy meditating on the breath. They may prefer to meditate on sound by using mantra meditation. For instance, someone who is very visual by nature may not enjoy walking meditation. They may enjoy visualization meditation or mandala meditation or candle gazing. So the type of what is your dominant sense? That is one of the questions that we go through to define what is the best style of meditation for you. But at the end of the day, you have to try a few different styles and see which one resonates. It also helps to have a clear idea of what is your goal with the practice. So if you want meditation to help you sleep better at night, well then there are a couple of styles that are really good at that. And I’ll say just do one of those. If your idea is to practice meditation so that you can focus better at work and be less distracted and deeper thinking thinker, then there are other styles that are better for that. If you want to just relax and let go and, you know, kind of be present without judging, then there are other styles that are better for that. So it is a bit of a complex topic. It’s not something that we can cover this quickly. But what I can encourage you or your listeners is to try different styles of meditation. And if you have tried meditation with one teacher or one group and that hasn’t worked for you, it doesn’t mean that meditation is not for you. It just may mean that you didn’t try the right style for you yet.
Peter Bowes: [00:16:15] And something that I hear often crops up that will put people off having tried meditation and finding that they become distracted very quickly and very quickly, becoming disillusioned because they might be initially, they think, doing everything right. But that mobile phone sitting next to them on the sofa that they had pledged not to look at somehow beckons them back and the distractions of life more generally, it could be children in the other room. It could be the clock on the wall that’s beaming down on you. And, you know, you’ve got an appointment, the inability to close out things during the early stages of meditation.
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:16:52] Yeah, this is in a way, the nature of the mind, and it has ever been the challenge for meditators since five thousand years ago. That’s one aspect of it. And the other aspect is our daily life. Our modern society makes things much harder for us. It’s it’s easier than ever to be distracted. You know, you have an instant source of gratification whenever you want, of information of entertainment, whenever you want. And it takes almost zero effort and it gives you instant dopamine. So it’s very hard to to develop, really focus and to stay with one thing at the same time when there’s so many shiny objects kind of floating around in your brain and and in your phone. So this is an added challenge for the modern meditator. Having said that, just like when you are lifting weights, gravity will always pull the weights back, the weights down, and then you pull it up again and then it will go down. So the exercise is not to to try to keep the weight up and not drop it. You know, that’s not possible. The same thing with meditation. There is the gravity of the mind. It’s always pulling your attention to focus on different things, to think about this, to worry about that. That’s the natural gravity of your mind. And what you are trying to do is to develop the muscle of concentration, to collect your attention and keep it in one spot moment after moment. And invariably it will get distracted. And when it does, that doesn’t mean that you have failed at meditation. That is just part of the process. You notice that the mind got distracted as quickly as possible and then you gently bring it back. And if you do this again and again, you become better at keeping focused. So if before in 10 minutes you were getting distracted a hundred and fifty times, then maybe after six months of practice and 10 minutes you’re getting distracted. One hundred and twenty times. Right, and little by little, you develop that ability, which then translates to it’s something that you can also apply in your daily life.
Peter Bowes: [00:19:00] And I was just going to come onto that because presumably, if you can master that art of not easily being distracted, we are, as you’ve described, distracted all the time to the nth degree during our lives. And our mobile devices are a big problem in that respect. Can we learn to ignore those notifications to live without those notifications in parts of our life when we’re not meditating, we’re just getting on with life, but we don’t need that gratification all the time of everything that we’re being bombarded with.
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:19:31] Yeah, yeah, and here’s where we start going to the topic of self-discipline, in a way, meditation is a training of awareness and of willpower. You know, you’re trying to focus on your breath, for example. And you you need to watch the mind all the time. You’re watching the mind. Is the mind still with the breath or is it somewhere else? So your training awareness, when when you notice that it comes out, your training awareness, and then what happens is when the mind goes off, you bring it back again. You make an effort to bring it back again. And you do that multiple times every time you meditate. And that is an exercise of willpower, of controlling where you want to put your attention, what you want to focus on. So every time you meditate are training, self awareness and willpower. And these two elements are the foundation of self discipline, which is the ability for you to to focus on your long term goals when everything around you is distracting you and inviting you to do something else or to have some instant gratification right now, rather than to work hard and go through pain and challenges and self-doubt and maybe in the future get a bigger reward. You know, that’s challenging. And for us to live well and for us to live long, we have to take on several disciplines, several practices and stick with them. The discipline of eating the right things and not eating the wrong things, the discipline of sticking to an exercise regimen that works, the discipline of going to bed on time so that we can have enough sleep, the discipline of letting go and processing negative emotions in a way that is healthy so that they are not they are poisoning our our blood with the wrong types of chemicals. So all of these are different types of disciplines. In a way, I, I look at self discipline as the core of all virtues because with that power we can develop any other skill we need, any other virtue we need.
Peter Bowes: [00:21:25] And a big part of this is developing positive daily habits. I thought it might be interesting to ask you about your day with all of your knowledge and knowledge of of discipline in terms of how to order your life throughout the day to to meet those goals and those achievements that you are aspiring to. Give us a snapshot of your day.
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:21:47] Ok, so my my routine changes from time to time, I’m constantly tinkering and tweaking and seeing what works and what doesn’t work. So what I’m going to give now, it’s my current snapshot of my routine. As for the last few months.
Peter Bowes: [00:22:02] And there’s nothing wrong with changing your mind is that I constantly change my mind about what I think is the best way to whether it’s diet, exercise, mindfulness or work or whatever I’m doing, I don’t rigidly stick to something. I do believe that we should afford ourselves that opportunity to constantly change our minds.
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:22:19] Yeah, yeah, I would say that there’s a balance, one in one side, you need to be flexible, constantly adapting to see what works and what doesn’t work. And on the other side, you have to watch yourself that that doesn’t turn into an excuse that you kind of give up your exercise regimen midway because you perhaps you came to the idea that exercise doesn’t work for you. So it’s it’s a balance between commitment and adaptability. Absolutely. But nowadays, I, I split my sleeping two, so I practiced biphasic sleep. I sleep from nine thirty pm to two thirty a.m. so that’s five hours. I wake up to 30, I take a cold shower, I do some stretches then I do.
Peter Bowes: [00:23:02] Let me stop you there. Let’s you’re going to say a lot this is really interesting to me here. Let’s start with the cold shower and we talk about cold showers in this podcast before. But what’s your reason for doing that?
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:23:13] I started cold showers, I think, five years ago, and the reason why I started cold showers is because I loved warm showers and I wanted something.
Peter Bowes: [00:23:23] Is that a good reason?
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:23:25] Well, that was one of the reasons I wanted to develop willpower. I from everything that I was studying and reflecting, I realized how willpower is central to living a good life. And then I started Googling, OK, what are some ways of developing willpower? And cold showers came up and then I read on the benefits of cold showers that it makes you feel better, elevate your mood, gives you stronger immune system, increases testosterone, etc.. So I say, OK, let me give this a try. Yeah. And I’ve been practicing cold showers daily since then. And I will tell you, it’s it’s not easy, especially in the winter, especially at two thirty in the morning.
Peter Bowes: [00:24:02] I like to say, how cold is the water, there?
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:24:04] It gets really cold. Yeah, especially I live in a kind of a remote area in the middle of kind of close to the woods, etcetera, but yeah, so cold showers. But I’ll tell you, I have never felt worse after a cold shower. I always feel better, more alive, more awake, more energetic. So I continue doing them.
Peter Bowes: [00:24:25] And you leap straight into the cold shower or do you build up for some from some warm water and just make it a little easy on yourself, or do you just dive straight in there.
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:24:34] So everyone recommends that approach of starting with warm water in little by little, making it cold for me, that’s just torture. I prefer to go when I find it easier to go in, but I go limb by lim. So first I go my legs, then my arms, then the torso, then the head. This way works for me.
Peter Bowes: [00:24:53] And how long does the shower last?
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:24:55] About five minutes.
Peter Bowes: [00:24:56] Ok, so that’s a pretty significant amount of time. It’s good to hear it and I’ve tried it as well. And in exactly the same way, I kind of do take the easy road and I do start with a little bit warmer water to start with and then just ease my way in and get in. My problem, of course, in California, especially in the middle of the summer, is actually getting the water really cold because it’s coming through the pipes. And I live in a remote area as well. So it’s actually well water and it’s coming up through the pipes and it can it can start hot when it’s supposed to be cold. So that’s a challenge. But in the wintertime from the outside, it’s it’s nice and cold.
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:25:27] Yeah, yeah, so I wake up at 230, I would do some stretches and then I would do the cold shower and then I would go and do meditation. I know I started with 20 minutes a day back in the day with meditation, but now I actually do two hours and a half because I’m teaching meditation. So I like to take it seriously and it’s pleasant. So I and I work from home, so I just make time for it. So after about two and a half hours of meditation, I then rest a little and do two hours of writing from six a.m. to eight a.m. I’m writing. And then at 8am I would do some physical exercise, some kung fu kicks and stretches that I’ve learned back in the day. And yeah, and then typically after that is just work with coaching clients and other things.
Peter Bowes: [00:26:23] Now, the couple of hours that you spend writing is that work writing is not professional writing or is that personal writing, is it journaling that has another wider motive when we’re talking about mindfulness?
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:26:35] No, it’s it’s work, it’s creating content, so it could be a blog post, it could be a new book, which is the case now, could be a course of creating. But that’s basically it’s my most important contribution to the world as I see it, my most important activity. So I like to spend the first two working hours of my day focused on it. And at that time, still my phone is in airplane mode. So I do not use the Internet from seven p.m. to eight a.m. I’m not using the Internet.
Peter Bowes: [00:27:01] And do you find by writing in a two hour stretch, that’s I assume you’re only sort of a significant part of the day that you’re just writing, do you find that ultimately you’re more productive because it is focused on those two hours?
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:27:14] Yeah, I think I can go deeper because as you’re writing, you are sometimes opening many simultaneous threads of thinking and if you need to interrupt that and come back in the afternoon, it will take some time for you to get back to the point where you were while if you just have that time of uninterrupted work, then you can work deeper and it definitely feels more satisfying.
Peter Bowes: [00:27:36] I saw in part because I’m quite interested in the idea of compartmentalizing our lives or our days in terms of two hour segments or shorter than that, to achieve a particular task and ultimately be more productive at that task because you are very focused during that period of time. I think it was the the writer, the novelist Jeffrey Archer, who writes into hour bursts throughout a 12 hour day. So two hours on, two hours off cooking, walking, whatever, another two hours, two hours off, doing something else. And then back to the two hours of writing, which I think I read is his most productive way of achieving the most during a day of of long a long day of writing.
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:28:19] Yeah, well, that’s the idea behind a routine that you have a segment you have segments in your day that are focused for specific things, and I have tried multiple types of routines. As someone who gets out on self-discipline, I’ve tried a lot of different things. What I found is that it’s it’s good to have maybe two or three activities in your day, that they are very kind of inflexible. It always gets done at that time. So from six to eight, seven days a week, I’m going to write. There’s a temptation to just go online and answer an email or a go to something else, but not at the time. I’m going to write from nine thirty to two thirty to my main sleep, my five hours of sleep. That’s the time I sleep. And I know that if I if I move one of those things, I go to sleep at ten, I’m not going to move the two thirty because then it becomes a domino effect. Right. So that what it means is that I’m going to have half an hour or less of sleep that night and I’m not happy with that. So once you have two or three main pieces in your day that are kind of very scheduling, very inflexible, then that gives you a structure, you know, and the other things, then you can be more more flexible. Depends on the day. Sometimes I have lunch at 11 a.m. sometimes I have lunch at two p.m. but sleep time, meditation time, writing time, these are always the same.
Peter Bowes: [00:29:38] And when is your second burst of sleep?
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:29:41] So that’s typically from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m..
Peter Bowes: [00:29:44] Oh so still quite early in the day?
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:29:45] Yeah, but basically means that if I take it, I need seven hours of sleep, right? So if out of 24 hours I’m going to remain 17 hours away. So basically, I realize, like, OK, where can I put my second time of sleep, which is exactly in the middle of my waking time, and that’s roughly between 11, 11 to one. But what’s happening is when I go to my for my second sleep at 11 a.m., I’ve already done cold shower stretches, exercise two and a half hours of meditation and five hours of work. I feel I have won today at that time. Whatever happens after it doesn’t matter so much. Now, if the afternoon is very busy and I’ve already done the most important things in my day.
Peter Bowes: [00:30:25] And do you find by splitting your sleep like that that you get enough deep sleep, which I know some people will feel as if they need to be in bed for seven or eight hours because they’ll know that some of that time will be restless and it won’t all be deep sleep by splitting it. Can you do you feel like you’re getting enough deep sleep?
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:30:42] I feel that this the deep sleep happens in the first few hours of the the main sleep, so typically when I wake up at four, 30, I either I haven’t dreamt or I just remember, like one dream that I was just having the moment the alarm clock rang. But for my second sleep, it’s more superficially. I don’t think it goes into deep sleep. Maybe it does for like 20 minutes. But that second sleep, then I would I would dream more. But what I can say is that I feel great since I’ve split sleep like this. So in terms of energy levels, wakefulness, moods, wellbeing, it seems to be working really well for me.
Peter Bowes: [00:31:18] And you do use an alarm clock?
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:31:21] Yes
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:31:21] Do you have to use an alarm clock? I because most of my work is in the latter part of the day, I have the luxury of and have got very used to not using an alarm clock because I’m not rushing out, especially in these times of of covid. I’m not rushing off to an office or to a meeting, but I’m tending to wake up at pretty much the same time of day naturally, which for me is roughly between five and six a.m. And I enjoy not having that alarm clock.
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:31:45] Well, I think it’s inevitable I don’t know if that would work for me, I would definitely not not wake up at 230 sharp every morning, but for the second sleep I could. Yeah, it’s just alarm clocks work fine for me. I have ever used them.
Peter Bowes: [00:32:00] You remind me of a past life, I used to read the news on a morning breakfast show on a radio station in the U.K., Radio One and my get up time was 230 every day. But there was no midday sleep because it was a long and very energetic day. Imagine lots of time on the air and there was there was no time to to lag in the middle of the day. I felt like doing it in the late afternoon, but I raise that because it’s interesting what you can get used to. And after a while of doing that, it becomes a lot easier.
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:32:32] Yeah, and then the only other relevant element of my day from the point of view of self discipline and routine, is that I eat one meal a day. I have found that since since I shifted from three meals to one meal a day. Actually, I feel lighter in my body and I feel more more well rested. I feel that I can sleep better. And of course, it just takes less time. I wouldn’t be able to do this routine if I had to sleep, if I had to eat three times a day.
Peter Bowes: [00:33:03] So what time is your eating time?
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:33:05] It’s after my second sleep, so typically one 1:00 p.m..
Peter Bowes: [00:33:08] And that’s presumably, by its nature, has to be quite a substantial meal that’s going to get you through the next 24 hours.
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:33:14] Yes, so typically I’ll eat a couple of fruits, then one and a half large plate of the main meal, which would be probably some rice and vegetables, I’m vegetarian, so I don’t eat meat, then some nuts and juice. That’s that’s basically it.
Peter Bowes: [00:33:30] And the question that vegetarians always get, I get it as well, is where do you get your protein from? And you mentioned nuts. There must be a bit more than that?
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:33:37] Nuts, I also eggs though, I will not eat fish or meat, but I eat eggs and of course the dark leafy greens, there’s always this this joke that, you know, the ox is really strong and he gets protein from.
Peter Bowes: [00:33:50] Exactly,
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:33:51] Yeah.
Peter Bowes: [00:33:51] Yeah, and well, that’s fascinating to me, sir, you’re essentially doing what some people describe as the 23 one diet regime that probably one hour in the day when you’re focusing on eating, how do you how long have you been doing that? And how do you feel you’ve changed since you started it?
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:34:08] So I’ve been doing it for a year and three months, and I am not 100 percent inflexible with this, so I will have a dinner maybe every 10 days or if there is a function, and sometimes instead of doing 23:1, I would do four hours a week of eating and then 20 hours of fasting, meaning I have a little fruit snack and then like two hours before lunch or two hours after lunch. But yeah, typically it’s a one meal a day and it just it saves a lot of time for me. And I find that the body has more time to rest. I feel more rested because otherwise your body is always digesting something. And of course, one of the reasons why I try this is I have heard a couple of podcast interviews with Dr. Peter Attia and another guy that I forgot his name saying the importance of fasting for longevity, that longevity is an important thing for me. And and so I got convinced with the science behind it. And I try different ways of fasting. I started by fasting once a week for thirty six hours. There was a bit too disruptive for my routine. I wanted something that is the same every day and so intermittent fasting was the logical step.
Peter Bowes: [00:35:23] And it is one of the core subjects on this podcast, we’ve talked about it many times, I’ve tried different fasting regimes as well. Do you feel mentally more alert because of your fasting?
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:35:35] I haven’t noticed any difference either for more
Peter Bowes: [00:35:37] Really?
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:35:37] Or less. Yeah, I haven’t noticed.
Peter Bowes: [00:35:39] That’s interesting because I certainly do. And a lot of people say that one of the the byproducts of fasting is that. And I think that it’s important perhaps for slightly longer periods of fasting as you’re going into ketosis, which you won’t necessarily do on a 23 one diet. You’ll probably stay just below ketosis, I think. But one of the effects is that you are just more alert, your mentally agile. Maybe you’re getting that from other aspects of your regime anyway. Maybe your your cold shower and your sleeping regime and your dedication to meditation is bringing you that alert mind without the need for fasting to do it as well.
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:36:17] Yeah, well, the difference that I felt with fasting is well-being in the body, so I feel just more rested, more well, more. It’s hard to describe. It’s just, you know, the metaphor that someone used once and I think it’s brilliant is imagine that you put a load of clothes in the washing machine and that in the middle of the cycle you open and you put some dirty clothes in. So that’s what’s happening if you’re constantly putting in food, while it’s it doesn’t make any sense for me anymore, and I grew up with with the philosophy that you have to eat every three hours, you know, that’s what everyone was telling you at that time.
Peter Bowes: [00:36:54] Me, too.
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:36:54] So which is unfortunate.
Peter Bowes: [00:36:56] Yeah, no, it’s in it’s a great analogy as well with the clothes and washing. You’re absolutely right. Let me ask you about the what I described right at the beginning as the three different pillars in terms of diet and mindfulness and exercise. And you mentioned you do some stretching when you first get out of bed. Do you do other forms of exercise, aerobic lifting, weights, that kind of thing?
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:37:17] I don’t do weights, but at 8am, I typically do about half an hour of kung fu kicks and exercises. I don’t know how else to describe them. So that’s a bit of a cardio thing with the kicks. There were times in my life where I did much more exercise and I think in the future I may increase that. But for now, that’s what fits my priority list.
Peter Bowes: [00:37:40] I will return to my conversation with Geovani in less than a minute. You’re listening to the Live Long and Master Aging podcast. This episode is brought to you by AgeUp, a new product that helps fill in the financial gaps that are often created once you’ve mastered aging and achieved an exceptionally long life. Small monthly payments to AgeUp stack over time to create a secure income stream for your 90s and beyond. Contributions to Asia are shielded from market swings, and once payouts begin at age 91 or above, they’re guaranteed to last for life. AgeUp is backed by MassMutual and so by Haven Life Insurance Agency. You can find out more at Age-Up.com. That’s Age-Up.com. Now let’s get back to Geovani Diensmann, meditation teacher and creator of the blog Live and Dare. We recorded our interview in August when, like now, covid-19 was uppermost in our minds. During these times that we are living through now, very difficult times for so many people, what have people said to you in terms of their concerns and their questions and how they want to be educated about meditation? What are the issues that they feel as if you can help them with that meditation, can help them get through these times of not being able to go to work, of not being able to, in some cases, just touch another person, physically, be with another person, the loneliness that people are experiencing right now. How are you able to help those people?
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:39:15] Yeah, so it’s it’s incredible the demand for meditation has increased considerably more people are coming to my side, more people are reading, more people are coming for the courses and coaching. Because there is more suffering. There is more. Now, people people usually seek meditation from one or two things, maybe one of three things, you know, they have a spiritual aspiration or they have some type of suffering. They want more emotional well-being or they have a goal and they want to have a sharper mind. Like it’s one of these three things. And in this time of the pandemic, it’s a lot the middle one, it’s they don’t feel well anymore. They there’s a lot of negative emotions of anxiety, of loneliness, as you mentioned. And nowadays, meditation is more accepted. There’s research behind it. And people know that okay meditation is one valid way to make me feel better, make me allow me to relieve stress. So, yeah, that’s that’s what people want. They want to get control over that monkey mind and to just feel a little bit better, to be able to accept the things that they cannot change. That’s that’s a big thing. Meditation to focus on what you can control, which is your thoughts, your mind, your decisions, and to accept the things you can’t. And that’s also a key element in stoic philosophy. So it’s these two are connected.
Peter Bowes: [00:40:41] Stoic philosophy, stoicism, just elaborate on that a little bit.
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:40:45] So the stoics were these Greek philosophers that so they developed this philosophy that it’s named after them stoicism, they focus on what you can control and they aim to let go of anything that you cannot control. And there’s a lot of talk about, you know, accepting your fate. They believe in fate, accepting your fate and focusing on developing virtue and not being so much affected by what other people think and by the bad things that happen in your life. So this type of philosophy is becoming more popular nowadays. And, you know, meditation helps you to achieve a lot of these things that the stakes were praising.
Peter Bowes: [00:41:23] And in terms of, again, trying to get through these tough times, get through covid, are people also using it as an opportunity to maybe put the brakes on their past life and build on some of the positive aspects of what we’ve been going through? And you and I are talking using digital media. We’re at the other sides of the world. We’re having a very good, easy conversation. A lot of people are working like this every day and scenarios that they never thought possible and that being at home all of the time like you are, like I am most of the time, isn’t so bad for those of us who have occupations that allow that kind of working and that perhaps for the sake of the environment, it might be a good thing that we’re not all driving around on the roads all the time. And that isn’t necessarily a good positive thing to be grouping together in huge crowds and that there is a kind of new life ahead of us. The new normal, as people often describe it as a people from your talking to people are beginning to think, well, maybe I can formulate a new kind of regime for myself or maybe new habits, as we’ve been discussing.
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:42:30] For some people, there is a conscious awareness of that and choice to change. And for many people, it’s just an understanding that is unconsciously growing inside of them, because this pandemic, it’s it shakes ups. It shakes everything that we know it. It highlights one of the the key concepts of Buddhism, which is impermanence. Right. And so when we have designed our whole life to go after what they call extrinsic values in positive psychology, things like money, fame, beauty, power, when we have designed our life to go after these things and then something like covid comes and, you know, it’s beyond our control, like we cannot it doesn’t make sense to pursue those same things or it’s not possible to pursue the same things, at least not in the same way. Then some people are reviewing their life. Like is is this a moment that that I start a new life? Because it’s it’s a big change and it’s a time for me to to think like, what do I want one of my after? Because if there’s no pause, then you don’t think. Right. You just you go on and on and on and you’re living life reactively. You’re just doing your habits, making the same decisions and your future becomes a repetition of your past. Now, when there’s a huge event like covid, it’s a forced pause for all of us. And some people are going to ask themselves the right questions and perhaps create a different life, perhaps start to focus more on on family, on personal growth, on health and longevity and on service. Because these things, they ultimately they give more and more meaning and purpose than going after those extrinsic goals.
Peter Bowes: [00:44:17] Yeah, exactly, it is fascinating, isn’t it, how covid has put things like money, fame, power. I’m in Los Angeles. You know so many people here. That is what the focus, at least superficially, appears to be. But this disease has put all of that into huge perspective.
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:44:33] And we are forced, Many of us, we are forced to to sit with ourselves and to look at things that we have been running away from, perhaps its shadows in our past, perhaps its decisions we have made, or things inside of us that we know we need to change. But we have been avoiding knowing when there are when you cannot go out anymore and when there are so many things that you can’t do anymore, at least to the same degree, then there is more space for you to to sit and have a good look at yourself and see what needs to be seen and understood.
Peter Bowes: [00:45:06] We’ve touched on it already, but to what extent do you focus on your own life is concerned longevity and imagining yourself in 20, 30, 40, 50 years time, the kind of human being that you want to be then if indeed you want to still be around in very, very old age, 80, 90, maybe 100 years time, because medically we know that is it is possible for those of us lucky enough not to be struck down by those diseases that we have no control of. But there are many aspects of your life clearly that are focused on on good health today. I’m just curious how far you look into the future?
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:45:44] Hmmm, I would take as many years as I can get because I have I have a sense of purpose in my life. I’m engaged with things that are meaningful for me. So I’m looking forward to continue doing this for as long as I can for me and for those around me. It’s funny because I have these type of conversations with people sometimes and and some people, they don’t want to live long. And I’m always surprised. And as I dig deeper, it’s usually because either they believe that living long, meaning spending many years in a very bad condition. It’s the idea of what old age and of course, we would we wouldn’t desire that. Or they feel like, OK, what am I going to be doing? Which, you know, that question shows that there is a there is a void of meaning and purpose in their life. So I find that if you have a strong sense of purpose and meaning, if you are engaged with your life, you are not in a hurry to go. You will stay for as long as you can.
Peter Bowes: [00:46:41] And you mentioned one of the reasons for looking at longevity is for those people or to be with those people around you. I know you’re a father. To what extent being a father, does that inspire you to live long and to remain healthy for as long as possible?
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:46:57] Interesting, it’s it’s still a new experience for me, new ish experience. My daughter is 11 months old. I haven’t reviewed the idea of longevity through those lenses yet, but now that you mention it, it makes sense. I would like to spend time with my grandchildren and perhaps great grandchildren and see what they’re up to and whatever wisdom and resources I have accumulated in my life to to put that into service for the future generations. Yes.
Peter Bowes: [00:47:25] And how important for you is it to have the support of those people around you, your wife, your your close friends and family when you are living your life in a way that some people would think of as being extreme, the getting up very early in the morning, of sleeping in the middle of the day and doing so much meditation and being maybe quite rigid in how you live your life because you believe it’s the the best way for you, but you must need support externally to make that happen.
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:47:54] Yeah, absolutely, so I am I’m lucky to have a very patient and understanding wife, and it’s a it’s a journey of of balance for me. I say that there are there are three pillars in my life, which is meditation, my work and my family. So these three pillars, each of them needs to be needs to receive enough attention. And there may be periods of time where one of them gets more attention than the other, but eventually it always needs to kind of rebalance. So now one of the reasons why I wake up at two thirty is exactly to keep this balance, because I do my two most important activities, which is writing and meditating in a time where my wife and daughter are sleeping, which means that for the rest of the day, if I need to, I don’t know, in the future, take her to karate class or whatever, I have the ability to do so. And even if I need to be very busy with family or family things for a while, I know that OK, that they already done the two kind of most important activities for me.
Peter Bowes: [00:48:55] Giovanni this has been a fascinating conversation? We could go on forever. I’ve still so many questions and we haven’t dug really deep, obviously, into your meditation practices, because, as you have said, they are complex and there’s a lot to them. But I know you have a lot of information on your website if anyone wants to take a closer look.
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:49:14] Sure, so people want to get started in a way that that is simple and bring some order to the chaos. You can try the Limitless Life program and can just go to LiveandDare.com And you find the buttons there to know more about this program.
Peter Bowes: [00:49:30] Sounds like a good thing to do. Giovanni, thank you very much indeed.
Giovanni Dienstmann: [00:49:32] Thank you, Peter.
Peter Bowes: [00:49:34] And as ever, I will put the details you just mentioned into the show notes for this episode of the podcast, and you’ll find them at our website. Live Long and Master Aging. That’s LLAMApodcast.com LLAMApdcast.com The LLAMA podcast is a HealthSpan Media production. If you enjoy what we do, you can rate and review us at Apple podcasts. I read all the reviews. It’s really good to know what you think. Perhaps you’d like us to cover a certain subject in the future. You can follow us in social media @LLAMApodcast and direct message me @PeterBowes. Many thanks for listening.