Read and grow: The books that changed my life

Read and grow

The life I have now? I read it into existence. Book after blog after book.

After my wellness epiphany six years ago, when, bent over in a car park having dieted myself into oblivion, I realised that health, not restriction, might just be the key to actual sanity, I sank my teeth into wellness content like the starving person I was. Every morning and lunchtime I scrolled incessantly through the blogosphere, learning about superfoods and supplements from a thriving community of Aussie wellness chicks. And every evening I’d rattle home on the train with my face in a hardback. I’d worry about sucking Amazon dry if it didn’t refill itself every day with ever more titles. I can never grow bored where there is one-click ordering.

In ages past I was fiction-addicted. I read tween novels walking home from school (Sweet Valley anyone?). It’s a wonder I didn’t get run over. I’m still a Harry Potter fan (Luna Lovegood is my homegirl). I read Anna Karenina cover to cover while rehabbing a rowing injury on the turbo trainer. A Russian guy I rowed with told me the ending a mere 80 pages in. I create themed holiday reading lists (honeymoon in California: Cheryl Strayed’s Wild and Vikram Seth’s The Gate). I’m an incorrigible lit snob (never read Jilly Cooper, Jackie Collins or Fifty Shades, never will). I’ve never even considered a Kindle. Possibly for fear I’ll like it too much.

But when I changed, from a bagel-addicted, diet-obsessed former athlete, so did my reading material. I went down the rabbit hole of personal development books and, quite honestly, I’m yet to emerge. One leads to another leads to yet another, and as I moved through nutrition and yoga teacher trainings into coaching, speaking and business-ing, I tripped naturally from food titles into spirituality into productivity. And as my daily routines shifted to reflect my new work-life and my morning commute switched to a dog walk, disabling me from making much of a dent in my ambitious annual reading lists, I discovered audiobooks and listened to upwards of 30 in 2016.

I want to share the very best with you. 

It is not an understatement to say that these books have changed my life. Opened my eyes. Challenged my thinking. Made me who I am. They crossed my path at the exact right time and, in some cases, booted me onto an entirely different one. They are, all told, the history of the modern me. Enjoy. 

The all-rounder:
What I Know for Sure, Oprah Winfrey
I don’t care who your are, if you don’t love Oprah you cannot be my friend. Her journey from impoverished, abused bookworm to one of the world’s most powerful women is the stuff of fairytales. And you know what else is magic? The stories she tells. What I Know For Sure is an edited collection of her magazine columns and life experience, and every one is a total gem. Do yourself a favour, listen to this on audio. Her voice, her cadence, her expression, is nothing short of masterful, and a lesson in how to rivet using words.

The yoga one:
Fierce Medicine, Ana Forrest
By the time I wandered into the bookstore at the Om Yoga Show in London in October 2013, I had a fairly solid practice but, still experimenting, no real home in yoga. Everything changed when I picked up Fierce Medicine. Exquisite in its insight, almost appalling in its honesty, I had never read anything like it – or have again. I read it in 48 hours. Within a week I’d found a Forrest Yoga teacher. Within a year I was training with Ana. Through Forrest I’ve changed my relationship to my body, found my voice, become a teacher, flung myself out of my comfort zone again and again, made beautiful, lasting friendships and quite frankly, flourished. Having lent many copies, never to be seen again, my last read of Fierce Medicine was actually a listen, and I highly, HIGHLY recommend the audio. Ana’s smoky voice and storyteller’s heart is made to narrate.

The mindfulness one:
A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle
I read this book one Spring, living in West London. I remember it was springtime because, after reading it, everything seemed even more vibrant, alive and lovely. A New Earth is, in essence, a manifesto for living in the present moment, and the most powerful one I’ve read yet. If you, like me, struggled and failed with The Power of Now, read this. It’s incomparable. I lent it to my best friend, who loved it so much she bought me fresh copy after having scribbled all over it. It’s my yoga retreat book, and I draw something new from it with every read. And when I listened to Oprah’s What I Know For Sure and learned that it’s one of her favourites too, I was gratified all over again. Because, you know, Oprah.

The foodie one:
The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan
I bought this imposing black book in an overpriced gifty kind of store in Carmel, California, and fell in unashamed LOVE with Michael Pollan. Having seen him in the flesh, fangirl-ing it up at a book launch in London one rainy evening, I don’t mine telling you that it’s a non-physical kind of love. I love his ideas. I love his boldness. I love his writing. I love that he talks about standing knee-deep in cow sh*t on an American feedlot that basically amounts to a crime against creaturehood with the same easy breeziness that he talks about grilling steak in his backyard. This is a book for a generation of eaters who – befuddled by trends, fads, marketing, food productisation and bad science – no longer know what the hell to eat. Of all his books, it’s the best. Savour it.

The creative one:
Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert
This was actually the first of Liz’s books I ever read, never having actually managed to pick up Eat, Pray, Love. Facebook went mad for it, and, quite frankly, so did I. It’s an essential read for creative types, neatly dealing with everything from how and why to support yourself while you make your art, to befriending your fear to what happens when you ignore your creative urges. She tells a beautiful story about an idea for a novel she failed to act on packing its bags and heading to Ann Patchett, who turned it into State of Wonder (also an awesome read). If you’ve ever not acted on an idea only to see someone else execute it months later, you’ll totally get it.

The inspiring one:
Daring Greatly, Brene Brown
I discovered Brene Brown the same way most of civilisation did: through her TED talks. As a professional researcher, she’s the real deal, and her findings on vulnerability, shame, empathy and wholehearted living and parenting, shape themselves into a kind of user manual for an authentic life. I lent my last copy to a coaching client, and I like to think it was partly responsible for her finding the courage to leave a job she hated and depart for Australia to have the time of her life travelling.

The wise one:
Women Food and God, Geneen Roth
I first came across Geneen Roth as a lecturer for the Institute for Integrative Nutrition where I got my health coaching certification. She talks with incredible wit, wisdom and candour about why we try to fight our feelings with food, and this (and all her books) are littered with gorgeous insights: ‘All any feeling wants is to be welcomes with tenderness. It wants room to unfold. It wants to relax and tell its story. It wants to dissolve like a thousand writhing snakes that with a flick of kindness become harmless strands of rope.’ After years of coaching and speaking about food, I stand by my belief that we all, all of us, have or have experienced some kind of food- or body-related misery, which makes this a book for all of us.

The money one:
Sacred Success, Barbara Stanny
This book turned up in a Christmas stocking from my mother in law. Unknowing that I’d just finished Stanny’s, Secrets of Six-Figure Women, she told me that she just wandered into a bookshop, saw it and thought of me. In my experience, if you want to come face to face with your financial demons, there is nothing better you can do than start a business. And when you’ve started that business and those demons are pulling your hair and spitting in your food, there’s nothing better you can do than to read this book. A brave blend of spiritual and practical approaches to tackling money matters, it’s the best book I’ve read so far on the topic.

The deep one:
Dark Side of the Light Chasers, Debbie Ford
My Forrest Yoga teacher mentioned Debbie Ford at the beginning of a class one day, and for some reason I immediately went home and ordered this book. And it’s fair to say that it blew my mind. Debbie was an expert and teacher in shadow work, which suggests that in order to find happiness – which is essentially, wholeness – we must find and re-integrate the aspects of ourselves we’ve shut down or disowned in order to find love and acceptance. Anger, hatred, selfishness, greed, vanity – according to Debbie, there is a gift waiting within each thing we try desperately not to be. Every chapter includes exercises and meditations to help you progress with your own shadow work. And they’re not to be missed.

The big one:
The Prophet, Khalil Gibrain
This was my Nana’s favourite book. When she died, we found her dogeared copy, full of pasted in poems and her own thoughts and notes. She had chosen a passage for her funeral. I chose a passage for our wedding. If and when I ever have a child, I’ll turn to it again for their naming ceremony. Short, simple, profound and poetic, the Prophet is one of those books, like a tiny King James Bible or Shakespeare’s Sonnets, that people have a relationship with their whole lives, as I’m sure it will prove for me.

So those are my all time greats. And I’m always on the scout for the next one. That might go some way to explaining why I usually have up to five books on the go at once – one in my handbag, one on the coffee table for after dinner, a couple by the bed and one on audio for my drives to and from yoga classes. This is what I’m reading now: 

Present Over Perfect, Shauna Niequist
This is basically a call to women working themselves into the ground while missing LIFE to lay down their weapons, surrender perfectionism and make space for what really matters. Shauna Niequist explores faith, family and our secret addictions in a way that’s deeply poetic and entirely courageous.

Upstream, Mary Oliver
Famous for the line, often wrongly attributed to Marianne Williamson: ‘Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?’ Mary Oliver is an American poet whose writing makes me want to cry it’s that exquisite. These essays are like meditations. Read in stillness.

Buffalo Woman Comes Singing, Brooke Medicine Eagle
Native American spiritual life must be one of the richest of any culture, and Brooke shares its infinite wisdom in this big book of stories, lessons and exercises. My Forrest Yoga reading list leads me to many unexpected places, and this is one of them.

Money, a Love Story, Kate Northrup
In an ongoing project to achieve financial health and independence, I’ve been through many money books, and I’m rapidly filling a notebook with the results of the insightful exercises Kate sets.

A reader’s work is never, ever done, and thank god for that, for there is so much knowledge yet to absorb. My Amazon wishlist is 165 books and counting, and a record of every phase of me, from literary princess to wellness entrepreneur. Here’s a small slice of where you’ll find me in 2017. 

Love Warrior, Glennon Doyle Melton
I saw her on MarieTV, read about her from Liz Gilbert, and finally my friend Aoife texted me about this book, ‘It’s so raw! I can’t put it down!’. Suffice to say, it’s calling me.

When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chodron
Having listened in raptures this Buddhist teacher’s gentle, sparkling voice on audio, I was disappointed not only that this is only available in print but also that she’s not my Grandma. Even so, I can’t wait to read it.

threads of yoga, Matthew Remski
Forrest Yoga doesn’t hero the traditional yoga texts as do other traditions, so I often feel a little bereft of age-old yogic smarts. Hoping this might fill in some blanks.

Pussy: A Reclamation, Regena Thomashauer
Yes, a book about owning our vaginas by the feminist teacher and phenomenon known to many as Mama Gena. It lit up the interwebs for a while last year. Definitely one to read on the tube. Or not.

Small Victories, Anne Lamott
I have many books by much loved American writer Anne Lamott on standby, vaguely imagining that once I’ve read one, I’ll devour them all. I keep you posted.

So there you have it, a summary of my life in uplifting literature. And now a question: what was the book that changed your life? My Amazon wishlist is awaiting a fresh workout 😉

x Lizzy

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